Human communication

Migrant children need a safe harbor as tensions rise: rescue charities

Published on: Amended:

Roma (AFP) – Children rescued in the Mediterranean must be allowed to disembark in a safe port, charities said on Saturday, as the standoff with Italy over migrant arrivals escalated.

Four humanitarian ships carrying rescued migrants are currently seeking permission to dock safely in Italy as conditions at sea deteriorate in severe weather.

“We have a lot of babies on board, as well as women with children. There is an urgent need to assign us a port,” Hermione Poschmann of German charity Mission Lifeline, which runs the rescue ship, told AFP. Rise Above.

Italy’s new far-right government, which was sworn in last month, has pledged to crack down on boat migrants fleeing North Africa to Europe.

The German ship Rise Above, which rescued 95 people in three operations on Thursday, is carrying 42 minors including eight babies, the youngest of whom are only seven and ten months old.

“The situation will continue to escalate due to the enormous psychological pressure on those on board,” mission chief Clemens Ledwa said.

Between them, the four ships – the Rise Above, Humanity 1, Ocean Viking and Geo Barents – are carrying more than 1,000 rescued people to the Mediterranean.

Italy said on Friday it would allow Humanity 1, run by German charity SOS Humanity and carrying 179 migrants, into its national waters so that Italian authorities can carry out medical checks.

“Undoubtedly Illegal”

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Italy would take in minors and pregnant women or women with young children, but the ship would then have to “remove” the remaining migrants from Italian territorial waters.

But SOS Humanity’s Lukas Kaldenhoff said the charity had received “no communication from the Italian authorities” regarding health checks, nor had it been assigned a port.

The Humanity 1 entered Italian waters overnight to seek shelter.

“More than 100 of the 179 people on board are minors, including a seven-month-old baby,” Kaldenhoff told AFP.

Mirka Schafer, the charity’s head of defense, said in a statement that the government’s decision to take only certain people was “undoubtedly unlawful”.

The German vessel is one of four humanitarian vessels now seeking permission to dock Séverine Kpoti, Séverine Kpoti Mission Lifeline/AFP

“The survivors fled Libya, where they were exposed to human rights violations such as torture. As refugees, they are clearly in a vulnerable state, some of them visibly traumatised.

“Rescued people must be allowed to disembark immediately, where their medical and psychological care can be provided, and they can exercise their right to seek international protection,” she added.

The vessel was off Catania in Sicily on Saturday, as was Rise Above, which had also sought refuge, according to Poschmann.

The 25-meter-long vessel “is a small, fast responder, not made for a long standoff,” Poschmann said.

The ship usually transfers those it rescues to the larger charity ships, but they have no room for them.

A photographer from the Ocean Viking, run by SOS Méditerranée, told AFP that the conditions at sea “are deteriorating, and we expect more rain”.

“Those on board are not well because they are seasick, including children,” he said, adding that there were 57 minors among the 234 migrants.

The Geo Barrents, run by Doctors Without Borders and currently carrying 572 rescued people, said on Saturday it had also entered Italian waters to seek refuge “after requesting and receiving permission from the authorities”.

“We have been waiting for more than 10 days for a safe landing place,” said mission chief Juan Matias Gil.