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EU countries 'record of shame' over ports closed to sick children

AFP , Friday 4 Jan 2019
he Dutch-flagged search and rescue vessel
File Photo: The Dutch-flagged search and rescue vessel Sea Watch 3. (AFP)
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Views: 1913

Rights activists accused European countries on Friday of a new "record of shame" for refusing to open ports to migrant children and families stranded at sea in the Mediterranean for two weeks.

Thirty-two migrants rescued off Malta by a Sea-Watch rescue boat on December 22 remain at sea after being denied entry to European ports.

"It's now been 14 days left alone at sea. A new record of shame," the Mediterranea collective of aid groups and associations said on Twitter.

A one-year-old baby and two children, six and seven, "are vomiting continuously and are at risk of hypothermia and dehydration," said Alessandro Metz of Mediterranea, which aims to protect migrant rights at sea.

Three unaccompanied teenagers and four women from Nigeria, Libya and Ivory Coast were among those onboard.

The boat was given permission by Malta on Wednesday to shelter off its coast due to a storm and fierce winds -- but not to land.

"The migrants sleep on the floor. We have hygiene problems. The situation is increasingly difficult psychologically," Philip Hahn, head of mission on the Sea-Watch 3, told Radio 24.

Mediterranea and Sea-Watch launched two boats on Friday to deliver supplies, including fresh water, to Sea-Watch 3, the Dutch-flagged vessel which took in the migrants.

The help party included fresh crew members and German members of parliament.

As the help party arrived, "one of the migrants threw himself into the water in an attempt to swim to Malta", said an onboard freelance photographer, Federico Scoppa.

"After a few meters, he gave up because of the cold and the current, and was dragged back to the ship using a lifebuoy," Scoppa told AFP.

The row over the Sea-Watch 3 is the latest in a series of incidents about sea rescues that has thrown a spotlight on the deadlock between EU countries over sharing responsibility for migrant and refugee arrivals.

The German NGO Sea-Eye also has a ship stranded in the Mediterranean with 17 migrants on board.

Italy, Malta, Spain and the Netherlands initially refused to take in migrants from either of the boats.

But Germany and The Netherlands later said they would allow some in -- on condition that other nations did the same.

Several German and Italian cities have since offered to host them, with the mayor of Naples defying Italy's hardline interior minister by saying he would lead the operation to disembark them himself if they approached the coast.

"EU ministers continue to bargain over 32 human beings. We might look miserable, but they are pathetic," German charity Sea-Watch said.

In a joint statement with Mediterranea, it said Friday's aid mission aimed to "put pressure on Berlin, which has yet to give a positive answer to the dozens of German cities willing to take in those rescued".

It also urged "European countries, beginning with Italy and Malta, to offer a safe port, as required under international law".

Doctors Without Borders (MSF Sea) said there was "no justification for this degrading treatment".

Migrants rescued by ships have frequently been left in limbo since Italy's populist anti-immigration government began turning them away last summer.

Since coming to power more than six months ago, the Italian government has been demanding greater solidarity from reluctant fellow EU states.

But EU members have failed to agree on a permanent mechanism to relocate migrants who reach Europe's shores, even though arrivals have dropped sharply since a peak more than three years ago.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year, according to the UN refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

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