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EU accused of ‘institutional racism’ in the way it handles Mediterranean rescues

‘If white Europeans had been on the boat, they probably wouldn’t have had to wait so long,’ NGO says after EU nations ignored the boat's distress call

THE European Union was accused of institutional racism for the way it handles rescues in the Mediterranean today after calls about another refugee boat in distress went unanswered. 

German charity Sea Watch discovered an inflatable boat with 15 people on board adrift in the Mediterranean yesterday from its reconnaissance plane, Moonbird. 

“Our crew accompanied the boat for hours and tried to inform the merchant ship Vos-Aphrodite, only a few miles away, about the acute sea emergency, and to coordinate a rescue,” Sea Watch tweeted yesterday afternoon. 

“Several contacts failed and none of the ships in the vicinity attempted to rescue [the people].

“We received information from the so-called Libyan Coastguard that their ships would remain in port due to ‘bad weather’. We’ll search for the boat tomorrow, with the sad expectation that EU authorities are once again responsible for the death of people by refraining from assistance.”

Fortunately the Spanish NGO migrant rescue ship Open Arms was in the area and tweeted today that it had found and rescued the 15 people on board. 

Open Arms said the refugees' dinghy was taking on water and was about to sink. “15 people: six men, two women, two children and five minors. Everyone is safe,” the charity tweeted this afternoon. 

Both Sea Watch and Open Arms condemned the EU’s inaction as well as its relationship and funding of the Libyan Coastguard. 

“If Libya is not a safe place and its ‘coastguards’ do not go out to rescue lives in danger if there is bad weather, they should stop calling themselves coastguards,” the charity’s founder Oscar Camps tweeted yesterday.

Sea Watch said: “A Libyan Coastguard that doesn’t send a boat for weather reasons; merchant ships who refuse any communication with our [search and rescue] reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird and official maritime rescue co-ordination centres who value formal responsibilities more than human lives.

“If white Europeans had been on the boat, they probably wouldn’t have had to wait so long. That is institutional racism. Fortunately, our crew was able to find the small rubber dinghy again this morning and co-ordinate a rescue with our friends from Open Arms.”

Meanwhile the Ocean Viking — a civil refugee rescue ships operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) — was today finally given permission to disembark the 104 refugees the crew rescued in the Mediterranean on October 18. Since then the ship spent 11 days at sea with nowhere to go and no word from Europe. 

Michael Fark, MSF head of mission for Libya and Mediterranean, said the charity was relieved France, Germany, and Italy finally agreed to relocate all of the 104 survivors on board the Ocean Viking, and the 90 people on board the Alan Kurdi. 

“These prolonged, inhumane standoffs must not continue. It is unacceptable to strand people at sea, waiting days and weeks while European states debate whether and how to fulfil their humanitarian and legal obligations. 

“It’s disappointing that only three states were part of this solution. All European states must live up to their principles.

“This means agreeing on the implementation of a predictable and humane disembarkation mechanism for everyone rescued at sea, that also shares responsibility, easing the burden on coastal states.”

However, the Alan Kurdi —an NGO rescue ship operated by German charity Sea Eye which rescued 91 people in Libyan waters on Saturday as armed, Libyan-flagged speedboats fired bullets into the air and the sea — has still not been given a port of safety. 

The Sea Eye’s chairman Gorden Isler said Berlin’s silence to the armed attack on the Alan Kurdi was deafening. “If we were a merchant ship and had transported diesel engines or crude oil, then there would certainly be reactions from the federal ministries,” he tweeted. 

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