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Activists slam Malta's delayed rescue of refugees who were adrift at sea since Sunday

Alarm Phone says ‘it is simply outrageous that Malta knew about this case for so many hours and chose to not intervene’

AROUND 75 refugees, including children and several pregnant women, were rescued today after having been adrift in the Mediterranean since Sunday on a leaky boat with no food. 

The boat contacted Alarm Phone, an independent support service for people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, on Monday afternoon telling the charity that the boat was taking on water.   

“This afternoon we were called by a group who fled the Tajoura camp where over 50 migrants were killed in July,” Alarm Phone tweeted. 

“The people on board say: ‘There is no water and no food onboard. Some people are sick and there are big waves’.” 

The charity says it provided the boat’s GPS to the Italian and Maltese maritime authorities. It also reluctantly contacted the EU-funded Libyan Coastguard. 

“The Armed Forces of Malta launched a search operation from the air and the people on board informed us they saw a plane circling above them at around 20:00 CEST,” Alarm Phone said in a statement today. 

“But it disappeared and they were left alone during the night.”

Alarm Phone says it tried to contact the Maltese and Libyan rescue co-ordination centres (RCC) throughout the night but were ignored. 

“We are used to the so-called Libyan Coastguard not responding to our calls, but tonight even the Maltese authorities were unreachable for more than six hours. [Malta’s RCCs] are obliged to be reachable 24/7.”

An Alarm Phone spokesperson told the Star today it was relieved that the people seem to have survived that night at sea. 

“A group of 75 people are now said to have been rescued. We cannot verify further because we cannot reach the migrants and Malta is not willing to share more details on the case.

“We very much hope that it is the group who called us and that they are not at sea anymore.

“This case is a clear instance of non-assistance. It is simply outrageous that Malta knew about this case for so many hours and chose to not intervene, at times stating that it's just Libya's responsibility.

“The Libyans could rarely be reached and when we had quick conversations with them, they were uncooperative and incompetent.

“Europe is outsourcing border control to Libya and building up the so-called Libyan coastguards. They pretend the Libyans are the responsible and competent authorities but clearly they are not.

“What we have seen once more was shameful behaviour by all authorities involved. Instead of rescuing, European authorities point to the Libyans and hand off responsibility. They are harassing and criminalising the NGOs while they blatantly disregard international conventions and laws.”

Meanwhile the Ocean Viking, an NGO migrant rescue ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was given permission on Monday evening to disembark the 176 refugees it rescued from Libyan waters at the weekend in Italy. 

“The Italian authorities have assigned the port of Taranto, south Italy, as a place of safety to the Ocean Viking,” MSF Sea tweeted on Monday evening. 

“We’re relieved that the 176 survivors will reach safety without unnecessary delay and we urge the EU leaders to agree on a stable disembarkation mechanism.”

Later that evening a fire broke out outside the Vathy migrant camp on the Greek island of Samos, which is housing more than 5,500 people in facilities designed for 600. 

MSF, which runs medical services for the refugees stuck in limbo on the Greek islands, said half of the people in the camp are women and children.

“This nightmare must end,” the charity tweeted. “Children and other vulnerable people must be evacuated from the Greek islands to safe accommodation.”

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