A boat with 158 migrants on board was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard off the coast of Khoms on Tuesday. A note from the Tripoli Navy on Tuesday morning gave some brief information about the operation, adding that the group had received humanitarian aid and medical assistance before being taken to a Libyan refugee camp.
However, according to Proactiva Open Arms, a part of the story is being kept quiet: “The Libyan Coast Guard did not say that they left two women and a child on board and sank the ship, because they would not climb onto the Libyan patrol boats,” Oscar Camps, the Catalan founder of the NGO, wrote Tuesday on social media. In the video he posted, one can see the lifeless bodies of a woman and a child floating atop wooden planks from a destroyed boat.
“When we arrived,” said Camps, “we found only one of the women still alive … How long will we have to deal with murderers paid for by the Italian government?” The bodies were recovered and taken aboard the Open Arms ship, and an initial post-mortem by the ship’s doctor, Giovanna Scaccia, showed that the 5-year-old had survived for a long time, but not long enough to be rescued.
Josefa from Cameroon was the only one who survived, at sea for two days, clinging to a beam from the ship’s hull. One of the volunteers jumped in to rescue her, and, together with the rest of the crew, brought her on board, hypothermic and in shock, according to Annalisa Camilli, an international journalist who was there during the rescue.
According to the NGO, two rafts with refugees had been spotted on Monday, according to communications between the merchant ship Triades and the Libyan navy. The Tripoli Coast Guard, however, decided to carry out the rescue operation alone. What happened afterwards, Camps says, is “the direct consequence of contracting armed militias to make the rest of Europe believe that Libya is a state, a government and a safe country.”
“We denounce the withholding of assistance in international waters … by the alleged Libyan Coast Guard, which Italy is touting and legitimizing,” said Open Arms on social media. During the afternoon, their ship set sail northwards toward Lampedusa. They did not intend to enter the harbor, but only to deliver the two bodies and the survivor to the Italian Navy. However, it is possible that they will have to head for Spain.
The Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, had to do some damage control. “We have to change the legislation to include Libyan ports among those classified as ‘safe,’” he had said on Monday. “There is this hypocrisy in Europe, and so they give money to the Libyans, they provide patrol boats, but they still think Libya would not be a safe port.” In the afternoon, a note came: according to the Interior Ministry, Proactiva Open Arms’s story, reported by the German journalist present at the rescue, was “fake news.” And the spokesman for the Tripoli Navy, Ayoub Qassem, also denied the report: “No one was left at sea. Probably some migrants drowned before the arrival of the patrol boats.” He then blamed the NGOs, which “hinder our activities.”
However, the numbers tell a different story. According to data released by the International Organization for Migration, the number of those drowned in the Mediterranean in 2018 was 1,443, a much higher share of the total than in 2017. The number of landings fell by 81 percent.
Erasmo Palazzotto, an Italian lawmaker and member of the LeU party, who is on board the Astral, the second vessel belonging to Proactiva Open Arms, attacked the last two Ministers of the Interior. “Dear Salvini and dear Minniti, you are responsible for these murders with your arrangements. Italy must give assistance to the woman survivor, who urgently needs treatment.”
But the leader of the Lega didn’t budge. “My goal is to save everybody, but so that nobody arrives in Italy,” Salvini said. “Lies and insults from foreign NGOs confirm that we are on the right course. No NGO will see the inside of an Italian port except on a postcard.“
The direct consequence of the ban on landings is further deaths. The latest victims in Italian waters were recorded on Friday. A fishing boat from Zuara carrying 450 people arrived near Linosa. Its journey had been monitored by the Coordination Center in Malta, and also by the one in Rome, but no one went to rescue them due to the current policy of both governments. Stranded without food or water, the refugees saw two patrol boats of the Harbor and the Financial Police sitting idle off the Sicilian island, with no operation being organized to take them on board. Thirty-four of them decided to throw themselves into the sea to swim to rescue. Only then, given the immediate threat to their lives, was it possible to set aside the Interior Ministry’s ban and lower the rescue boats into the water. By then, four Somalis had already drowned.
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