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Mediterranean: 121 people - including babies and children - stranded at sea

The Proactiva Open Arms ship rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean last year © REUTERS/Juan Medina

Proactiva Open Arms rescue ship has 121 people onboard in sweltering heat and overcrowded conditions 

Some of those on the vessel have reportedly been tortured in detention in Libya

‘Politicians are shamelessly breaching their responsibilities under international law’ - Maria Serrano

Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the wellbeing of 121 people - including 30 children and two babies - stranded at sea in sweltering heat and overcrowded conditions on an NGO rescue ship currently 30 nautical miles from Italy, between Malta and Lampedusa. 

Those onboard the Proactiva Open Arms ship have been on the vessel for seven days, since they were rescued in international waters on 1 and 2 August. The first rescue took place near the coast of Libya and the second close to a Maltese search-and-rescue zone.

However, the ship has been unable to dock, caught in a stand-off between the Italian, Maltese and Spanish authorities. The Italian and Maltese authorities are refusing to allow access to a port where those onboard could safely be disembarked, while the Spanish authorities have yet to formally request help from European institutions to mediate a solution. 

There is mounting concern for the passengers’ wellbeing, and Amnesty is calling for the rescue ship to be allowed to dock immediately. Another Proactiva ship, the Astral, is expected to depart from Spain on Saturday to provide assistance - including food, water and medical supplies - to the Open Arms ship.

The stand-off comes a day after the Italian parliament introduced Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini’s second “security decree”, a new law which means private rescue boats entering Italian territorial waters without permission could be impounded, with their owners facing fines of up to €1 million. The UN has criticised the new measures, which could further discourage shipmasters from rescuing people. 

The Proactiva Open Arms incident is just the latest in a series of instances of rescue ships in the Central Mediterranean being blocked from docking in the nearest safe port. 

Maria Serrano, Amnesty International’s Senior Researcher on Migration, said: 

“After a week stranded at sea in blistering heat, these women, men and children - who have risked their lives to escape human rights abuses in Libya - should be immediately disembarked either in Malta or Italy.

“Despite mounting concerns for the wellbeing of those on board, politicians are shamelessly breaching their responsibilities under international law by refusing to grant a safe port to people who could face torture if returned to Libya, and who are exhausted and in need of protection and care.

“It is time that European governments stop playing with people’s lives and deploy adequate resources for search and rescue where they are needed.”

Abuse suffered in Libya

Many of the people onboard the Proactiva Open Arms claim to have suffered serious abuse whilst in detention in Libya, and some reportedly have third-degree burns and gunshot wounds. At least one man claims to have sustained his injuries during last month’s attack on Tajoura detention centre in Tripoli.

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