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MSF to restart Mediterranean migrant rescue missions

DOCTORS Without Borders (MSF) is returning to the Mediterranean and joining the civil counter-offensive against the European Union’s inaction on migrant deaths at sea.

“More than 8,000 people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the start of the year,” MSF international president Dr Joanne Liu said at a press conference in Paris today.  

“And during this time, there have been virtually no humanitarian vessels in the area. Four hundred and twenty-six people have already died.”

Dr Liu hit out at European governments standing by as migrants and refugees either drown or are forced back to Libya via the EU-funded and equipped Libyan coastguard. 

“Our teams work in Libya,” she said. “They constantly sound the alarm about what awaits migrants and refugees intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, but European governments continue to ignore them.

“What’s more, fighting has been raging around Libya’s capital, Tripoli, since April. Refugees and migrants in detention centres are trapped, unable to escape the shooting and bombardments.

“We are facing a war of attrition aimed at making the public believe that the death and horrors experienced by thousands of people in Libya is an acceptable price to pay … for managing European borders and migration flows. 

“This is human suffering on an industrial scale.”

In December 2018 MSF was forced to cease operations with its previous ship, the Aquarius, which had rescued over 30,000 people in 18 months, following continuous attempts by Italy, the EU and other European states to sabotage and discredit its rescue operations. 

The charity says its new ship, the Ocean Viking, will put to sea by the end of the month and operate with migrant rescue charity SOS Mediterrannee.

It will join a beleaguered civil fleet formed of an informal coalition of NGOs operating across the Mediterranean, which fills the role that the EU has failed to perform since it suspended its search and rescue missions in March. 

German charity Sea Watch’s ship, the Sea Watch 3, which rescued over 50 migrants in June, is still impounded in Sicily after it defied Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and landed passengers on the island of Lampedusa. 

Another NGO migrant rescue ship, the Alex, operated by the Italian group Mediterranea Saving Humans, is also locked up. 

Both charities have called on the authorities to allow them to continue with their work of trying to prevent more deaths at sea. 

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