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Doctors Without Borders to resume lifesaving missions in the central Mediterranean

Charity announces new alliance with refugee rescuers Sea Watch as European states continue to ignore migrant deaths in the Mediterranean

INTERNATIONAL charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is to resume efforts to save the lives of refugees in distress in the central Mediterranean on board a new rescue ship.

MSF announced today that it was teaming up with German refugee rescuers Sea Watch to help in operations by the refugee rescue NGO’s new ship the Sea Watch 4, which is currently docked in Spain and scheduled to return to the Mediterranean later this month.

“No human being should be left to drown, to sink beneath the waves,” said MSF director of operations Oliver Behn.

“No human being should be forced to endure torture and suffering. Yet this is the consequence of criminal dereliction of duty by European governments.

"As a medical humanitarian organisation, we at MSF acknowledge the challenges presented by Covid-19. However, we see that recent state measures to discourage or block life-saving activities in Mediterranean, cloaked in public health rhetoric, are reckless and politically motivated.”

“In drafting in the Libyan coastguard, despite their questionable record, to control the borders of Europe and denying rescue to those coming from Africa, European states are sending a forceful message that these lives do not matter.”

Sea Watch 4 head of mission Philipp Hahn said the new alliance was civil society’s response to the racist EU policy of letting people drown rather than reach the shores of member states.

“It is a symbol of solidarity with people on the move and a clear signal to the EU that, despite all their efforts to hinder us, we will not stop rescuing.

“People are being left to die in the water or are pushed back to the very place from which they are trying to escape, while EU border patrol aircraft watch from above, complicit in sealing their fate.

“As long as the EU states are letting people drown as a deterrent, we will carry on and we will have support.”

MSF had worked on board the Ocean Viking, operated by European NGO SOS Mediterranee, until their relationship ended in April.

The Italian coastguard authorities impounded the ship in Sicily on July 22 for carrying too many “passengers” after it saved the lives of 181 people in three separate missions.  

The Sea Watch 3, owned by MSF’s new partner organisation, has also been held on the island since July 9 after rescuing 211 people.

Following an 11-hour inspection, the Italian authorities claimed that the ship had “various technical and operational irregularities,” the same justification that the authorities used to detain Sea Eye’s Alan Kurdi and Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario’s Aita Mari in May.

Sea Eye announced on Wednesday that is has filed a lawsuit against the Italian Transport Ministry for impounding the Alan Kurdi for over a month following the rescue of 150 people.  

“In our opinion, the decision made by the Italian authorities has to be considered illegal and creates legal uncertainties that aim to prevent further operations by Alan Kurdi,” Sea Eye chairman Gorden Isler said on Wednesday.

“Sea rescue is an obligation under international law. It cannot be the case that … civilian actors now have to argue with state actors about how many people can even be rescued.”

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 155 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean from war-torn Libya this year, 180 are missing and 6,848 have been returned to that country by its EU-supported coastguard.

Two Sudanese migrants were killed and three other injured at the al-Khums disembarkation point last week after their boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard.

“The suffering of migrants in Libya is intolerable,” said Federico Soda, the IOM chief of mission for Libya, last Tuesday.

“The use of excessive violence results yet again in the senseless loss of life, amid a lack of action to change a system that often fails to provide any degree of protection.”

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