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Doctors demand British government help stranded migrants who fled Libya

DOCTORS are calling on the British government to help hundreds of refugees who are stranded in the Mediterranean, as conditions onboard the ship which rescured them rapidly deteriorate.

More than 300 men, women and children are languishing on the Ocean Viking, a boat that has been denied access to its nearest ports in Malta and Italy.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, which run the vessel, have sounded the alarm after spending the last fortnight floating in international waters while European nations bicker over letting them dock.

The Ocean Viking rescued 356 refugees earlier this month after they were found floundering off Libya on three unseaworthy craft.

Attempts to bring the refugees ashore on the Italian island of Lampedusa or nearby Malta have failed after politicians refused to allow disembarkation.

Now pressure is mounting on the British government to intervene, with MSF writing to Boris Johnson and several Whitehall departments on Thursday.

Dr Luca Pigozzi, a medical doctor onboard Ocean Viking, said: “As each day passes, I see a rapid and concerning deterioration in people’s mental state.

“As a doctor, I cannot accept their unnecessary drawn-out suffering.

“Why are ethics and humanity taken hostage by politicians who voluntarily leave people stranded at sea, depriving them again of their basic rights and dignity?

“There must be an urgent intervention now.

“I implore European states to find their humanity and put an end to this disgrace.

“All 356 people on board must be allowed to disembark in a place of safety now.”

Thousands of refugees have attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Libya since Britain took part in bombing the north African nation as part of the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi. 

MSF demanded that the British government provide protection to some of the people stranded on the Ocean Viking, and raised their plight with the Foreign Office, Home Office and Department for International Development.

Its call was echoed by other charities such as Sea Watch and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas) which also rescue refugees in the Mediterranean.  

Moas co-founder Regina Catrambone told the Star: “Given Britain’s strategic interests in the country, it certainly should feel compelled to act on the situation for migrants in Libya, but this responsibility does not fall solely to the UK government, but all European countries, whether arrivals are coming across the Mediterranean or other routes.”

Sea Watch spokesman Chris Grodotzki added: “It is not only Italy but the whole of the European Union which has brought about the inhumane and brutal state of exception on its southern border.

“Even if Britain is now just about to leave this union, this does not mean it can dodge responsibility for this ongoing crime in which it was and is complicit.

“Britain, like every other EU state, has a responsibility towards those people who survive Europe’s deadly fortress, but maybe even more so due to its involvement in the Libyan war and its colonial history in many African countries.”

Refugee boats are a sensitive issue across Europe, with Conservative MP for Dover Charlie Elphicke warning of a “summer of chaos” after a few dozen migrants landed in south-east England over the last few days. 

In Italy, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been at the forefront of Europe’s war on the rescue ships.

On August 6, the Lega Nord party leader spearheaded a successful Senate vote aimed at fining NGOs up to €1 million (£904,920) if they disembark migrants in the country without permission. 

Spokeswoman for Italian left-wing party Potere Popolo Viola Carofalo told the Star that should Britain refuse to take in any of the people “currently being held effectively hostage on the Ocean Viking” then this would show the UK government to “be complicit in Salvini’s far-right xenophobic project.” 

She added: “Salvini denounces other European governments for failing to take more responsibility for the so-called refugee crisis but in reality he needs this dynamic for his survival.

“His entire project is based on constructing fears around migration and on his claim of unfair treatment for Italy and Italians by the EU and other member states.”

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