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EUROPE was urged to reassess the way it handles refugees today after about 930 people in 15 separate incidents escaped war-torn Libya and attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea over the past weekend.
According to Alarm Phone, an activist network providing aid to people crossing the Mediterranean, approximately 650 people were picked up by the civil rescue fleet between Friday January 24 and Monday January 27.
The Ocean Viking, run by European charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), saved the lives of 407 people, including 149 children and 12 pregnant women.
German charity Sea Eye’s ship Alan Kurdi saved 78 people and the Spanish NGO Open Arms’s ship of the same name saved 56 — adding 181 more people this afternoon.
So far, the Ocean Viking is the only ship to have been provided with a port of safety.
The refugees will be disembarked in Taranto, Italy in the coming days.
Malta rejected the Alan Kurdi’s request for a port of safety on Sunday. The ship is now heading towards Italian waters.
Two other refugee boats were picked up by the Maltese Armed Forces, another by the Italian navy and one boat made it all the way to Italy unaided.
Alarm Phone blasted Europe today for its slow response to the emergencies.
“European authorities were almost entirely absent, merely performing air-surveillance and rejecting the responsibility to rescue lives at sea,” Alarm Phone said.
“Without the relentless efforts of the civil fleet in the past five days, hundreds of people could have been killed by European border policies.
“We are glad and relieved that the hundreds of people who called Alarm Phone either reached Europe or will hopefully reach a place of safety soon. They should not have had to cross the sea in overcrowded boats and bad weather conditions.”
Charlie Yaxley, the UN’s refugee agency’s (UNHCR) global spokesman for Africa and the Mediterranean, said: “It’s crucial we get people who have fled Libya by sea and were rescued by NGOs off the boats in a place of safety as quickly as possible.
“Many may be in need of humanitarian assistance. Others may be in need of refugee protection.”
UPDATE: At 16:15 this afternoon, Malta’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre told the Alan Kurdi that the 77 people still on board the ship can now disembark in Malta.
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