UNHCR, IOM call for urgent disembarkation of rescued migrants and refugees

Twitter / Sea Watch

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration have called for the disembarkation of over 400 rescued migrants and refugees currently on board three vessels in the central Mediterranean around Malta.

On Saturday afternoon, one of the vessels, the search and rescue vessel Louise Michel, reported that the Italian Coastguard has taken 49 of the most vulnerable survivors among the over 200 its crew of just 10 had rescued. At least four members of the group are reported to have died before their rescue.

The tanker Maersk Etienne has now been docked in Maltese waters for three weeks, with 27 rescued people on board, including pregnant women and children. The UNHCR and the IOM insisted that this was unacceptable, and that the vessel must be provided with a safe port for disembarkation.

“A commercial tanker cannot be considered a suitable place to keep people in need of humanitarian assistance or those who may need international protection. Appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures can be implemented once they reach dry land,” the two organisations said.

A further 200 rescued people are stranded on the Sea Watch 4 vessel.

The UNHCR and the IOM have both long called for a regional disembarkation mechanism, in line with Malta’s position, but insisted that its absence should not be used as an excuse to deny vulnerable people a port of safety and the assistance they need, as required under international law.

“It is crucial that other EU Member States provide more support to countries at the forefront of receiving sea arrivals in the Mediterranean,” the two organisations said.

They argued that meaningful solidarity should be expressed through the pledging and implementation of relocation places as well as support for accelerated processing to identify those in need of protection. It was also important to enable swift returns for anyone wishing to return to their country of origin, and those who are found not to be in need of any form of protection.

UNHCR and IOM also expressed deep concern about the continued absence of a dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean. With fewer NGO vessels operating when compared to previous years, commercial vessels are increasingly filling the gap

“It is vital that they are permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end,” they concluded.