UN Urges More Mediterranean Rescue Efforts after Aquarius Pullout

UN Urges More Mediterranean Rescue Efforts after Aquarius Pullout

Saturday, 8 December, 2018 - 10:00
FILE PHOTO: Migrants disembark from the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, after it arrived in Augusta on the island of Sicily, Italy, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello/File Photo
Geneva - Asharq Al-Awsat
French NGO Medecins sans Frontieres has warned that the end of operations of the last refugee rescue ship working in the Mediterranean Sea, Aquarius, would mean more migrants would die, as the UN expressed concern over the decision to retire the vessel.

"This is a somber day," Nelke Mander, Medecins sans Frontieres's general director, said in a statement Thursday. "The end of our operations onboard the Aquarius will mean more death in the sea, deaths that are avoidable and without witnesses."

The decision to moor the Aquarius is the result of a "constant denigration, smearing and obstruction campaign led" against Medecins sans Frontieres and SOS MEDITERRANEAN by the Italian government and supported by other European countries, the NGO said.

The Aquarius was recently accused of trafficking waste and criminal activities -- accusations that are "ludicrous", Reuters quoted Medecins sans Frontieres as saying.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly closed Italian ports to the Aquarius, forcing it to sail for days with dozens of rescued migrants aboard to find a port in other countries.

Salvini has refused to take more migrants from the Aquarius, demanding other European Union countries take a share of migrants. He also said the rescue ships like Aquarius encouraged people to take the sea to cross towards Europe.

SOS MEDITERRANEAN director of operations Frederic Penard said "giving up the Aquarius has been an extremely difficult decision" but added that the group was "actively exploring options for a new boat".

"Search and rescue capacity needs to be reinforced rather than diminished," UN refugee agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told reporters in Geneva.

She stressed the need to leave "space for NGOs to contribute in a coordinated manner to these efforts". 

"Saving lives is our primary concern," AFP quoted her as saying.

Aquarius has helped almost 30,000 migrants at sea who have attempted the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. 

Editor Picks

Multimedia