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NGOs urge EU to take in 49 migrants stranded for weeks at sea

FEDERICO SCOPPA / AFP | Rescued migants rest on the deck in the sun after a cold night, onboard the Dutch-flagged rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 on January 5, 2019, sailing the Mediterranean about 3 nautical miles off Malta's coast.

Nearly 50 migrants are stranded on NGOs ships off the coast of Malta -- some of them for over two weeks – and at a press conference in Berlin, the humanitarian groups made a direct appeal to the EU to allow them to dock.


The European humanitarian groups raised the alarm, warning that the physical and mental health of those on board is deteriorating fast.

The Dutch Sea-Watch 3 vessel rescued 32 migrants on December 22 and the German boat Sea-Eye took on board 17 more on December 29 amid turbulent, icy conditions.

Both ships are not only very close to one another, but also face similar urgent situations while awaiting a firm response from European Union nations.

France, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Romania, and Portugal have said they are ready to take in some of the migrants if other nations do the same, but Italy and Malta have steadfastly refused, leading to a furious EU diplomatic row.

Drinking water being rationed

The NGOs told reporters on Tuesday they are now rationing in a situation that could “deteriorate significantly” and impact the “psychological and physical health” on the passengers. In an indication of the mental state of many on board, a short-lived hunger strike has ended but concerns remain.

“Since 18 days we're stuck in an ongoing rescue mission which will only be concluded once the rescuees are disembarked in a port of safety” Sea-Watch 3 tweeted on Tuesday. “Since 15 days we sail back and forth off the shores of Malta.”

Dutch Sea-Watch 3 member Erik Marquardt asked: "Do people need to die before a solution is found?"

According to Hugo Berger, who acted as male nurse on the Sea-Watch 3, “there has been no improvement.”

“We do not have enough supplies of food and water, we were not prepared for being at sea for such a long period of time. We last received provisions on January 4, but the severe weather conditions have made it impossible for more to be delivered and tomorrow we’re expecting bad weather with 3 to 5-meter high waves”, Berger told FRANCE 24.

"It's a very tough situation, especially after three long weeks at sea in these challenging conditions. With the severe weather expected tomorrow, our passengers will have to be locked below deck in a confined space for hours", he said.

On Sunday, Sea-Watch 3 spokeswoman Giorgia Linardi described how a baby and a number of children were very seasick in the restricted space.

Malta and Italy refuse access

Malta and Italy have repeatedly refused to allow the boats to dock, in a move that has sowed discord among members of Italy’s populist government.

Italy's Labour and Social Policy Minister Luigi Di Maio -- and leader of the 5-Star Movement -- first said Italy would take in women and children if Malta allowed the ships to dock. But far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini point blank refused. He said in an interview he doesn’t "understand why ... if there are 49 people in Maltese waters on German and Dutch boats, it's still the problem of the Italians".

He added Italy would still say “no” even to “15 people”, who would arrive in Italy only to “cause trouble and beg”.

FEDERICO SCOPPA / AFP | A migrant is being rescued on January 4, 2019 with buoys and a rope, after he dived in the Mediterranean off Malta's coast from the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3 rescue vessel, in a attempt to reach the shore by swimming.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also refused, stating that he does “not want this case to set a precedent” for the small island state, which has a population of just 450,000. Its position makes it a target for many human traffickers, as it is close to the Libyan coast.

Pope Francis urges “solidarity”

The fate of the two boats has come under the international spotlight.

Pope Francis appealed in front of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday for EU leaders to show solidarity towards the migrants.

"I make a pressing appeal to European leaders that they show some concrete solidarity with respect to these people." The Pope said.

The Argentinian pope, himself descended from Italian immigrants, has appealed multiple times to European leaders to open their borders.

Despite the numerous appeals, the Dutch Sea-Watch 3 and German Sea-Eye remain off the coast of Malta.

Sea-Watch goes back and forth around Malta coasts


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