Geo Barents: rescued migrants arrive in Sicily

After more than a week on board the “Geo Barents” rescue vessel, 101 people were allowed to disembark in Italy. Nearly 300 others, many of them minors, are still waiting at sea on the Ocean Viking rescue vessel.

The long wait at sea finally came to an end on Tuesday (May 3) as 101 people rescued by the ship ‘Geo Barents’ were allowed to disembark in Augusta, Sicily.

The migrants on board the Geo Barents, operated by the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), had been rescued from a small boat off the coast of Libya. Although many of them suffered torture and abuse in Libya, they were forced to stay on the lifeboat for more than a week as many requests for permission to dock the ship were denied. .

Julie Melichar, humanitarian affairs officer on board the Geo Barents, said nearly half of the rescued migrants were minors and the majority were traveling alone. She said two babies and several very young children among those rescued had already been returned to Libya and imprisoned there.

“Over the past few days, survivors have spoken to me about the extreme level of violence and human rights violations that have been inflicted on (them) in Libya,” Melichar said in a video posted on social media.

The 101 migrants aboard the Geo Barents were tested for COVID-19 before disembarking | Photo:
Pantelia, Anna/MSF

‘Everyone fell,’ says Ocean Viking survivor

As of Tuesday morning (May 3), after at least nine requests for safe harbor, another rescue vessel, the Ocean Viking, was still awaiting permission to dock. A total of 295 passengers, including children, are on board, the NGO SOS Méditerranée tweeted this weekend.

“Being detained without a landing permit after experiencing imminent death at sea is extremely distressing,” the NGO said.

Among those aboard the Ocean Viking are 94 people who were rescued from an overcrowded dinghy on April 25. It was already too late for 12 people who had fallen overboard and drowned hours after the boat left Libyan shores.

“We were tired, we had spent the first night (before leaving Libya) without sleeping,” says a survivor, Kader*, in a video by SOS Méditerranée. “The next night we took off at 3 am. While sleeping, … (my friend) fell overboard. As he fell, he clung to people. Everyone fell. “

Some people had rubber tubes to hold on to, Kader said. “We helped them, but we couldn’t help the others. There were too many waves.”

Aboard the Ocean Viking, a survivor says 12 people on the rubber boat leaving Libya fell overboard and drowned |  Source: Screenshot by SOS Méditerranée
Aboard the Ocean Viking, a survivor says 12 people on the rubber boat leaving Libya fell overboard and drowned | Source: Screenshot by SOS Méditerranée

“We continued on our way, we left them behind.”

The day before, April 24, Ocean Viking discovered a group of 70 people in a deflating boat. As they were rescuing the group, a Libyan patrol boat arrived and approached closely, causing panic, according to SOS Méditerranée.

In addition to the Ocean Viking and the Geo Barents, the rescue vessels Sea-Watch 4 and Sea-Eye 4, run by two German NGOs, are also currently active in the Mediterranean Sea. There is no official coordinated European search and rescue (SAR) operation in Mediterranean waters.

SAR-capable civil society vessels regularly face legal action: NGOs are accused of facilitating irregular migration and their vessels are seized due to what authorities call technical irregularities. Humanitarian groups say NGO rescue operations are increasingly criminalized.

The sea route between North Africa and Italy is one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 600 people have died attempting the crossing since the start of this year, an average of almost five people per day. The number of unreported deaths is likely much higher.

If you want to learn more about life aboard the Ocean Viking, you can listen to InfoMigrants’ podcast, Tales from the Border here.

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