'Not a victory': MSF slams European response as stranded refugees head to Spain

'Not a victory': MSF slams European response as stranded refugees head to Spain
Refugees must endure another four days before reaching land, after Italy and Malta refused to let the rescue ship dock.
2 min read
12 June, 2018
Thousands of migrants attempt the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Europe [Getty]
French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said the European response to accepting hundreds of refugees trapped in Meditarranean limbo over the weekend was "not a victory".

Both Italy and Malta refused to allow the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, to dock, before Spain offered safe harbour for the refugees as humanitarian organisations warned of catastrophic consequences.

However the one-off fix was not adequate, the charity said, calling on European leaders to step up and find shared solutions to support countries on the frontline, such as Italy.

"Denying disembarkation to desperate people rescued at sea cannot be considered as a victory: it is the wrong response to the lack of responsibility and burden sharing between member states," said Aloys Vimard, MSF's project coordinator on board Aquarius.

"All EU governments and institutions must step up and support countries on the frontline dealing with sea arrivals such as Italy, to guarantee shared solutions and stop unacceptable silence and inaction from EU states."

The refugees will be taken to Spain's Valencia port with the help of two Italian ships.

However, MSF said this would mean "already exhausted people rescued at sea would have to endure four more days exposed to the elements on the deck, in an overcrowded boat already well over maximum capacity and in deteriorating weather conditions".

Calling for immediate disemarkation for the 629 people, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, MSF said the better option would be to disembark in the nearest port, after which the refugees can be transferred to Spain or other safe countries for further care and legal processing.

The charity added the boat is carrying several critical drowning and hypothermia patients who had to be resuscitated, as well as several with chemical burns caused by being exposed to a toxic mixture of sea water and fuel for a long time.

Sophie Beau, head of French charity SOS Mediterranee, which charters the vessel, said its missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area".

In the meantime, she said the Aquarius, currently in Maltese waters, was unable to continue its usual rescue work off the coast of Libya

"At this time the Aquarius, the biggest rescue boat in the Mediterranean, is going far from its rescue zone," she told AFP.

Agencies contributed to this report.