50 migrants in peril rescued by Italy coastguard: Doctors Without Borders

AFP , Tuesday 3 Jan 2023

A charity monitoring migrant boats that follows the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) group in the Central Mediterranean said Monday the Italian coastguard had pulled around 50 people to safety after repeated appeals for help.

Geo Barents
In this file photo taken on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022 the Geo Barents rescue ship is dock at the Salerno harbor, Italy. The Geo Barents belongs to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the charities that monitor migrant boats attempting the dangerous crossing from North Africa. AP


Alarm Phone, a hotline used by migrants in distress, tweeted that it was "relieved to confirm that the Italian coastguard has eventually rescued" the people, who had first called for help on Sunday.

There were no further details about those saved.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had said earlier Monday that it had been alerted by Alarm Phone to a boat with some 45 people in distress.

It said its Geo Barents charity rescue ship would assist them if it came across the boat while it was en route to the port of Taranto.

"We immediately requested permission from the Italian authorities to intervene, but received no reply," MSF press officer Maurizio Debanne said.

"Under international law and maritime conventions, we are obliged to assist those in danger," he said.

Intervening could potentially have pitted the charity against the far-right government and its strict new decree law on rescues at sea.

The charity later said it was no longer looking for the boat.

Orders from Rome

MSF published a series of tweets earlier Monday making it clear it was only aiding boats after being requested to by Italian authorities.

It also said Rome had asked the Geo Barents in one case not to assist, because the situation was "being managed by Libya". It obeyed.

The new decree law was signed by the president on Monday, and now moves to parliament to be converted into law within 60 days, during which time it can undergo changes.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's hard-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022, according to the interior ministry.

She claims migrants and people traffickers are encouraged by the charities which rescue people attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa.

However, the charities say they always follow international and national laws regarding saving lives at sea, and slam the new rules as putting lives at risk.

Most of the migrants who arrived in 2022 were rescued and brought to shore by Italian navy or coast guard vessels, not charity ships.

At least 20,218 people have died or gone missing on the crossing -- the world's deadliest -- since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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