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Detaining of fifth search and rescue ship in five months condemns people to die at sea

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On the morning of September 17th, as Open Arms awaited instructions from authorities regarding the disembarkation of the 275 survivors rescued in the Mediterranean sea, more than 70 people jumped into the water in desperation. The Sea-Watch 4 was close by, at anchor outside the port of Palermo, and immediately responded by launching three RHIBs to provide assistance. MSF and Sea-Watch crews remained on scene until the situation stabilised.

 

Misuse of maritime law is providing a smoke-screen for a political decision to prevent rescue ships from saving lives in the Mediterranean, declares Médecins Sans Frontières, as the Sea-Watch 4 becomes the fifth NGO ship to be immobilised by Italian port authorities in less than five months.

During its maiden lifesaving voyage, Sea-Watch 4 rescued 354 people. Among them were 227 men, as well as 98 unaccompanied teenagers, families, women travelling alone, people with disabilities, pregnant mothers and children – the youngest less than two years old. The MSF medical team on board provided 551 consultations, treating many people for fuel exposure and intoxication, caused by fumes from the petrol used to power the engines and the corrosive cocktail of saltwater mixed with gasoline. One teenager sustained chemical burns so severe he had to be medically evacuated.

“The violent reality people have escaped, and the dangers of the journey they are forced to take in order to seek safety, was evidenced by the wounds we treated,” said Barbara Deck, MSF medical project coordinator on board. “Yet, from the boy now deaf as result of a punch to the head by armed men, to the father who carries the scars of melted plastic branded on his skin while in Libya, the resilience we witnessed was humbling. As we treat our patients on board, it is devastating to know that European governments are doing everything they can to prevent these vulnerable people from being provided with this lifesaving care.”

As we treat our patients on board, it is devastating to know that European governments are doing everything they can to prevent these vulnerable people from being provided with this lifesaving care.BARBARA DECK, MSF MEDICAL PROJECT COORDINATOR ON BOARD

The decision by the Italian authorities to detain Sea-Watch 4 is all the more reprehensible given that the ship was instructed by the Maltese authorities to take on board more people from the search and rescue ship Louise Michel after it was forced to call for help while in the Maltese search and rescue region. At the same time Italian coast guard vessels were on scene and evacuated 50 vulnerable people from the over 200 people onboard.

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The Sea-Watch 4 is only at sea because of the absence of state-led search and rescue capacity at the world’s deadliest sea border. MSF and other NGOs are simply trying to fill the deadly gap left by European states. August registered the highest number of fatalities in the central Mediterranean so far this year, with 111 people reported dead or missing. In the most recent shipwreck off the Libyan coast on 15 September, over 20 people were reported missing presumed dead and in another shipwreck on 17 August, 45 migrants and refugees died bringing the overall total for this year to 379.

Legitimate maritime procedures are being manipulated and abused by Italian authorities. Inspections of NGO vessels have become a way to block search and rescue efforts.ELLEN VAN DER VELDEN, MSF OPERATIONAL MANAGER FOR SEARCH AND RESCUE.

“Once a rescue ship enters an Italian port, it is subjected to a lengthy and overzealous inspection until some insignificant irregularities are found. It took 11 hours of inspection on the Sea-Watch 4 yesterday to come up with sufficient infractions to prevent the ship from sailing out of the port of Palermo,” said Ellen van der Velden, MSF operational manager for Search and Rescue.

“We are accused of “systematically” saving people,criticised for having too many life jackets on board and scrutinised over the sewage system. Meanwhile the obligation for every ship to provide assistance to boats in distress is completely disregarded. This is the Italian authorities playing dirty, attempting to incriminate and stop humanitarian organisations who are doing nothing more than trying to save lives at sea as per international maritime law, while tearing up the rule-book on their own obligations, chiefly to provide assistance to boats in distress. And this with the assent, if not full endorsement, of European states,” added van der Velden.

Not only are European states are failing to provide search and rescue capacity, but they have co-opted the Libyan coast guard to police the Central Mediterranean. Since the beginning of 2020, almost 8,000 refugees and migrants have been intercepted at sea and forced back to Libya – a 32 per cent increase in comparison with the same period last year – as the number of people held in official detention centres in the country continues to grow. Despite the fact that we know Libya is not a safe place.

READ  Uganda lifts COVID-19 closure admits refugees escaping escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Across the Mediterranean, from preventing rescues at sea to purposely holding people in  Moria refugee camp, the EUs current approach to migration is to systematically trap, push back and abandon people; whether that is leaving them to die at sea or trapping thousands of men, women and children in appalling conditions in camps on the Greek islands. As the European Union heralds its new pact on migration set to be launched on 23 September, organisations such as MSF are dealing with the human cost of such inhumane policies. This latest move by the Italian authorities suggests this pact will manifest more of the same, casting a shadow on the pledge even before it is made public.

EU member states are disregarding their legal and moral duty to save lives, opting instead to impose abusively bureaucratic and administrative measures on yet another lifesaving ship. A decision to further decimate already limited search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean will have devastating consequences for those in desperate need of assistance and inevitably result in more lives lost.

Sea-Watch 4 must urgently be released so that it can recommence life-saving search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean and the ongoing attacks on NGO’s trying to provide assistance to desperate people must stop.

Background: Five NGO rescue ships blocked in five months

Sea-Watch 4 is the fifth ship to be detained by Italian authorities in the last five months. After each one of the ships was subjected to a Port State Control, the Italian coast guard announced it had discovered “irregularities of a technical and operational nature to the extent that they risk compromising not only the safety of the crew but also of those who have been or could be rescued” on all five ships.

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On 5 May, the German-flagged ship Alan Kurdi operated by Sea-Eye was the first one this year to be detained at the port of Palermo in Sicily after the ship completed a mandatory quarantine following the disembarkation of 150 rescued people in Sicily. On 6 May, the Spanish-flagged Aita Mari operated by Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario was also detained, followed by the detaining of Sea-Watch 3 in the port of Porto Empedocle on 8 July. On 22 July, Ocean Viking of SOS MEDITERRANEE was also detained in Porto Empedocle after an 11-hour Port State Control. Another rescue vessel, the Iuventa operated by the German aid group Jugend Rettet was detained by Italian authorities in August 2017, after it was accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy and is still blocked.

Sustained criminalisation campaign of SAR NGOs

The detainment of Sea-Watch 4 is just the latest blow in a campaign of criminalisation against search and rescue NGOs. Amid accusations of colluding with smugglers, criminal investigations and judicial proceedings against MSF, (including on way it managed waste on board) in 2018 the organisation had to stop its search and rescue operations on board the Aquarius, a ship operated in partnership with SOS MEDITERRANEE, after it lost its flag twice in two months at the instigation of Italian authorities. Such decision was the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people.

 

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Over 140 migrants perish in deadliest shipwreck of the year

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020.

According to media sources, the Senegalese and Spanish navies, and fishermen who were nearby, rescued 59 people and retrieved the remains of 20 others.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy, which follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel.

“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life.”

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Local community members told IOM the vessel left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal on Saturday (24/10) bound for the Canary Islands. The boat caught fire a few hours after departure and capsized near Saint-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

The number of departures from West Africa to the Canary Islands has significantly increased in recent weeks.

IOM Senegal has been monitoring departures from the coast with the assistance of members of the community since the beginning of September. In September alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands. Of these departures, 26 per cent were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck.

IOM estimates there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period last year. This is still far below peaks seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived.

READ  Left behind by migrant husbands, women break the rules and go to work

With this tragic shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route in 2020 according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.

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Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

Migrants near Budapest

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners is extremely concerning. With limited access to food, humanitarian services and health care, displaced children in Yemen are at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity.

Around 26 per cent of the more than 156,000 people newly displaced this year, in the areas where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has access, cited food as their main need. This is the second most cited need after shelter and housing, which 65 per cent of people reported as their main need. In areas where there are higher levels of displacement, like Al Hudaydah, Taizz, Al Dhale’e and Marib, higher levels of food needs have also been reported.

“Displaced Yemenis leave their homes with nothing and often find themselves seeking safety in locations where there are no job opportunities and barely enough services, including health care,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Chief of Mission for Yemen.

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“This can leave vulnerable people without enough food to feed their families. Given that UN partners are reporting that acute malnutrition rates among children under five are the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, we are extremely worried about children in displaced families.”

The situation in Marib is particularly concerning given that an escalation in hostilities has displaced over 90,000 people to the city and caused a drastic shortage of services. Displaced people in Marib report food to be one of their most urgent needs. Of the displacement sites assessed by IOM in October, some reported that food shortages were a major concern for approximately 50 per cent of their residents.

In response to food insecurity, the emergency aid kits distributed under the Rapid Response Mechanism by IOM to newly displaced families include emergency food rations. IOM also carries out livelihood support activities for displaced communities to help them generate income. Most recently the Organization supported displaced women in making face masks which help their community combat the spread of COVID-19.

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IOM also operates a health centre in Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, and multiple mobile health clinics. In addition to providing primary health care services to over 55 per cent of displaced people in Marib, IOM’s mobile health clinics provide community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment, in coordination with UNICEF. Given the high demand for such nutritional support, early intervention is vital to reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality among displaced children.

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

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“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

READ  Human trafficking generates billions in profit at the expense of victims- A-TIPSOM

 

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