Last night the ship Open Arms, with EMERGENCY workers on board, reached Porto Empedocle, the designated harbour for the 146 people it has rescued in the last few days. The Italian Red Cross gave them swabs for Covid-19 this morning, before they were put onto the ship Allegra for quarantine, or in shelters on land in the case of the children.
The people were found in two rescue operations in Maltese waters on 12 and 13 February. They come mainly from Mali, the Ivory Coast and Guinea, but some are from Nigeria, Sudan, Cameroon, Togo and Burkina Faso. Two of the women among them were four months pregnant and 58 were children, including little Moez, just three months old. Fifty of those children were travelling alone.
Open Arms set out on Mission 80 on 2 February from the port of Barcelona. Several times over the last few weeks it has found itself under heavy pressure from Libya’s so-called Coast Guard. In its first week of operations, in the Maltese search and rescue area of the Mediterranean, dinghies from Open Arms were approached by a Libyan patrol boat, Fezzan P658, and ordered to leave what were claimed to be Libyan territorial waters.
On Saturday, 13 February, after a report from the NGO Alarm Phone, Open Arms saved another 106 people. The raft they had been travelling on capsized and snapped just minutes after we rescued them, so stormy was the sea. This second operation was likewise done under the menacing watch of a boat from Libya’s so-called Coast Guard, who kept their distance only after realising we had video cameras on board.
‘What has happened on Mission 80 goes to show, if any further proof were needed, that governments of EU countries are coordinating and funding constant, structured prevention by proxy. In the last few days we’ve helped rescue hundreds of people taken back to Libya against their will by Libyan patrol boats paid with Italian and EU citizens’ money. We’re reiterating that the EU must stop defining Libya as a safe place and start guaranteeing rights to rescue and treatment under international law,’ declare the two NGOs.
Our team will now quarantine themselves on board at anchor, as ordered by the relevant authorities.