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European inaction condemned as NGOs rescue over 100 people in one day in the Mediterranean

ACTIVISTS condemned European inaction today after two NGO refugee rescue ships saved the lives of over 100 people in the Mediterranean yesterday.

Alarm Phone, an activist network which provides support for people crossing Europe’s deadliest border, was contacted on Thursday by three separate groups of people in distress at sea while attempting to flee Libya.

“A rubber boat in distress with 44 people on board, including 21 women, alerted us in the early morning at 5.02 CET,” Alarm Phone tweeted. 

“We are very relieved that the Alan Kurdi [a rescue ship operated by German charity Sea Eye] has found and rescued them and that they escaped the Libyan hell.”

The crew of the Alan Kurdi later rescued 40 people from a second unseaworthy boat just hours later.

Later yesterday evening the Ocean Viking, a rescue ship co-operated by charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), rescued 60 people from an overcrowded wooden boat.

A spokeswoman for Alarm Phone told the Star that it had informed the European maritime rescue authorities of all three emergencies, but said their response was inadequate. 

“Luckily, NGO assets [Alan Kurdi and Ocean Viking] were on the scene and they managed to prevent another tragedy. 

“All three boats had called the Alarm Phone and we are happy that, together with these non-governmental actors, we all managed to create a safer passage for the people in distress. 

“All the rescued were fleeing Libya and they were in danger of being returned back to a war zone by Libyan authorities — or worse, to drown without anyone noticing. 

“After the shipwrecks and missing boats of the previous week, this week’s rescues show the importance of NGOs in preventing these deaths and to make migrants’ struggle for freedom of movement visible. 

“The rescues also prove, once more, the complete failure by European actors to do anything to make the Mediterranean less deadly. In fact, the European authorities are making each crossing more dangerous, by financing Libyan militias.”

Sea Eye spokesman Julian Pahlke told the Star that keeping rescued people on board NGO rescue vessels is not safe, especially for children. 

“For one-and-a-half years we’ve had a situation where we never know where to land the people we’ve rescued at sea,” Mr Pahlke said.

“The international law of the sea is quite clear — as are international human rights laws and the European convention of human rights — that people rescued at sea are not to be considered safe until they reach a safe port. And Europe is the only place we consider to be safe. 

“However the maritime authorities in the Mediterranean seem to think that once people are on board a vessel, then they are safe. 

“But our ship is nothing more than 307 tonnes of steel floating on the sea — we’re nothing else than an ambulance. It’s cold and it’s windy on deck. And it’s not a place for children."

By the time this story was published, seven people had been emergency evacuated from the Alun Kurdi to the Italian island of Lampedusa. All 60 people remained onboard the Ocean Viking. Neither ship had been assigned a port of safety. 

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