All 106 migrants rescued by German NGO vessel Sea-Eye 4 have gone ashore at the Italian port town of Augusta on the island of Sicily. The Sea-Eye 4 crew had rescued the migrants in the central Mediterranean in two separate operations.
After five days of waiting to be assigned a port, the Sea-Eye 4 rescue ship on Wednesday (April 6) disembarked the 106 migrants it had rescued. The vessel arrived in the Italian port town of Augusta on Sicily on Wednesday (April 6) around noon. Following COVID-19 tests for all passengers, everyone had safely gone ashore by the early evening.
The Sea-Eye 4 had arrived off Sicily on Saturday (April 2) after a day of waiting off Malta requesting to be assigned a safe port. But the EU member state did not allow the vessel into its ports. According to Sea-Eye, authorities said they were not responsible for finding a safe harbor.
Then, after three days of waiting off Sicily, Italian authorities on Tuesday (April 5) assigned the Sea-Eye the port of Augusta.
"The refugees on board stayed on boats that were not suitable for the high seas for many days," said Harald Kischlat, medical doctor and board member of German Doctors. "They're hypothermic, seasick, traumatized. It is irresponsible and inhumane to deny these people access to a safe port for an unnecessarily long time." According to Sea-Eye, German Doctors is responsible for the medical care of the rescuees on board.
The Sea-Eye 4 crew took the 106 migrants aboard last week in two separate operations. During the first one, on March 29, it took aboard 32 people rescued by a cargo freighter. A day later, Sea-Eye rescued 74 people from a rubber dinghy after receiving several distress calls.
Deadly sea route
In a press release, Sea-Eye criticized the long wait civilian rescue ships and their rescuees have had to endure before being allowed to dock at a European port. The organization also lamented that EU member states still haven't found an agreement on how to distribute "a few thousand people."
Referring to the swift and unbureaucratic welcome of millions of people fleeing Ukraine, the organization also criticized what it called an "unequal treatment of people fleeing".
"All people have the right to seek protection and asylum within the EU," Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler said. "Skin color, gender, origin, religion or political beliefs must not be a reason for European authorities and politicians to make a difference. Human rights are unequivocal in this respect."
UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi echoed this view earlier this week, saying "Europe has proven its ability to host 4 million refugees from Ukraine generously and effectively. It must now urgently consider how to apply this to other refugees and migrants knocking, in distress, at its doors."
Last weekend, some 90 people presumably died in the Central Mediterranean Sea in one of the worst shipwrecks involving migrants in recent years. According to medical charity MSF, four survivors were rescued by a commercial vessel.
The tragedy brought the estimated death toll in the Central Mediterranean to 417 for the year. Last year, more than 1,500 people drowned in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach European shores. The real numbers are likely a lot higher.
Geo Barents and 113 migrants waiting for a safe port
Another migrant rescue vessel, the Geo Barents, meanwhile, is still waiting for a port to disembark the 113 rescued migrants it has on board. "Strong winds and waves up to 2m in height are making the situation on board the #GeoBarents more and more difficult by the hour," Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which operates the Geo Barents, tweeted on Tuesday (April 5).
"Following a near-death experience and a week on the vessel, 113 survivors urgently need a safe place to disembark and receive assistance," MSF added.
Similarly to Sea-Eye, MSF on Wednesday denounced the "negligence" of European countries and their "migration policies".
According to MSF, this practice led to the death of more than a hundred people last week in the Central Mediterranean. Aside from the aforementioned shipwreck, four children and seven women were found dead on Thursday (March 31) aboard an overloaded inflatable boat, according to MSF.
For the Sea-Eye 4, which is operated by the German organization Sea-Eye headquartered in Regensburg, the mission in the central Mediterranean was the first one of the year. The mission was complicated by bad weather conditions, Sea-Eye said. According to chairman Isler, the Sea-Eye 4 is now on its way to the Sicilian capital Palermo to prepare for its next mission, which is to start on Easter (April 17).