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I’m a medic on a rescue ship in Italy – right now, authorities are using coronavirus as an excuse to let migrants die

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  • I’m a medic on a rescue ship in Italy – right now, authorities are using coronavirus as an excuse to let migrants die

Despite the pandemic, non-assistance and deliberate delays have become the new norm in Maltese and Italian rescues zones, causing more disappearances and deaths, both at sea and in Libya.

Refugees and migrants swimming and shouting for help from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station's Phoenix vessel off the coast of Italy, 24 May, 2017

Refugees and migrants swimming and shouting for help from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s Phoenix vessel off the coast of Italy, 24 May, 2017 ( Getty Images )

The coronavirus spread into Italy about one month ago. Early warnings from the authorities didn’t give the impression that the disease could bring with it thousands of deaths and, despite the reality in Wuhan, for several weeks we kept speaking about it as if it were just another seasonal flu.

At the end of February, my grandfather died. He was an old man, with comorbidity and terminal cancer. The doctors didn’t investigate too much further. But many other people died in these same weeks, and not all of them were old, or had a previous advanced chronic disease.

Soon after, the whole of Italy went into a complete lockdown. All of a sudden, everything stopped. And an issue that was dominating the news until the day before, disappeared from the general concern: the migration crisis. What would happen to it now that Italy was facing the coronavirus pandemic?

The nationwide lockdown didn’t only mean empty streets and empty bars. The humanitarian vessels operating in the Mediterranean have moored in Italian ports, put in quarantine after disembarking the last people they could rescue at sea. Civil aerial reconnaissance aircrafts are grounded. The Lampedusa hotspot has been locked into quarantine.

Despite the current health emergency in Italy, however, desperate departures from the northern coasts of Africa have not stopped.

READ  IOM, humanitarian partners roll out new decongestion strategy in Borno IDP camps

On 14 March, the Alarm Phone NGO monitoring for distress calls at sea reported two distress cases of ships carrying more than 200 castaways in international waters between Malta and Lampedusa.

The majority (112 of them) had already been located by a Frontex aerial asset in the early morning, as reported by sources in Alarm Phone and documented by Angela Caponnetto, Italian reporter covering Lampedusa. The 112 on board spent about 48 hours at sea before being eventually rescued by Maltese authorities, 18 hours after receiving the Alarm Phone alert.

The remaining castaways were on a rubber dinghy in sight of the Maltese oil tanker ship Gineshli since the early morning. Alarm Phone recordings testify how migrants on the dinghy had been communicating with the tanker to ask for floaters and water.

Instead of coordinating with its tanker, Malta called up the Libyan Coastguard, guiding the Libyan vessel Ras Al Jadar to the second distress case of the day. The 46 people on board were intercepted and taken back to Libya when they were only 80 miles away from the Maltese coast.

It is not the first time that the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, reportedly made of armed militias trained in Europe and cooperating with EU border agency Frontex, are called in to perform illegal push-back operations inside European rescue-zones.

On the night of the 9 February, Aita Mari, the rescue ship of the Basque humanitarian organisation Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario, witnessed another joint operation between La Valletta and the Libyans happening in Maltese waters. Michele Angioni, the first officer on board the Spanish ship, said that the humanitarians offered to intervene, but the Maltese authorities ordered them to stay away from the case as a military plane, probably Maltese, was flying over the rubber dinghy.

READ  COVID-19 Compounds Families’ Painful Search for Missing and Disappeared Migrants

A reconstruction of the events based on the testimonies of the people on board and collected by Alarm Phone shows how the Maltese Armed Forces, first to arrive on the scene, had purposely delayed the rescue operation so as to allow for the arrival of the Libyan coastguard to bring the dinghy back to Libya.

This operation, illegal under international law, was prevented only by the castaways jumping into the water once they had understood what was happening.

In November last year, The Times of Malta exposed a secret deal between Malta and Libya to prevent further migrant arrivals, a negotiation that involves coordinated intervention by the Armed Forces of Malta and the Libyan coastguard. A similar negotiation was already revealed taking place between Italy and Libya, when known Libyan traffickers were invited by the Italian intelligence for a round table in Sicily, in 2017.

The coastal countries’ reluctance to take responsibility is reflected by the purposeful delay in rescue operations, which now has no more witnesses, as the humanitarian assets are all blocked in quarantine because of the coronavirus emergency.

Non-assistance, purposive delays, and even pushback are becoming the new norm in the Maltese and Italian rescue zones, causing more disappearances and deaths, both at sea and in Libya. But at the times of coronavirus, there is no humanitarian presence at sea, which can monitor, denounce and counter these crimes.

The fact that so many people are still attempting to cross the Mediterranean despite the lockdown of European countries and the absence of NGO ships in quarantine is strong proof against those accusing NGOs of being responsible for the so-called migration “pull-factor”. Once again, it has become clear that the only thing driving this crisis is a push factor: the deprivation of the most basic human rights in the middle of a civil war in Libya. That’s why the coronavirus outbreak won’t stop people fleeing Libya and seeking asylum in Europe.

READ  Migrants among most vulnerable, as IOM ramps up coronavirus response worldwide

Even at the time of the coronavirus emergency, people fleeing Libya have the fundamental right to save themselves and demand asylum. The coronavirus pandemic should not trump on anyone’s right to live and escape violence and war. Aid coming to Italy to tackle the pandemic should also take into consideration the fact that Italy and Malta are still the safe ports for people fleeing the hell of Libya. They too, are facing this pandemic.

Valeria Alice Colombo is an Italian Doctor and Crew member on Sea Watch 3. She is also a member of the journalistic collective Brush&Bow

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  IOM commends United States’ inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

READ  Massacre of 59 African migrants:  Rights group seeks prosecution of ex-Gambian President

“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Migrants play key role in disaster response, IOM explores diaspora’s engagement in humanitarian assistance

 

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FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK

Kelvin

The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.

Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.

Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.

Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.

“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.

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Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
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READ  Migrants play key role in disaster response, IOM explores diaspora’s engagement in humanitarian assistance
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