Southern Mediterranean — International humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Mediteranee have formally requested that the Maltese and Italian maritime authorities take on coordination and support finding a place of safety for 356 people rescued from the Mediterranean, "as the closest coordination centres able to assist, given the lack of response to requests for a place of safety from the Libyan authorities".
In a press statement today, MSF says that after four rescue operations in four days, the Ocean Viking is carrying 356 vulnerable men, women and children. Of the 103 children under the age of 18 now safely on board, only 11 of them are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
International news channels confirm that the survivors hail from across Africa and include many Sudanese. In one of the rescue operations by the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking on Sunday, 81 'mostly Sudanese' migrants were picked up from a blue rubber dingy off the coast of Libya, and some estimates say that two-thirds of the people recently rescued are from Sudan.
"MSF and SOS Mediterranee expect European authorities to follow international law and promptly assign a place of safety for the disembarkation of all on board the Ocean Viking," today's statement says.
"The sobering reality is that there is an ongoing conflict in Libya where many vulnerable migrants and refugees are trapped in detention centres on the frontline. We are now asking for a place of safety to disembark these vulnerable people without delay. They have suffered enough."
MSF says that despite being contacted throughout four rescue operations that took place between Friday August 9 and Monday August 12, the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Centre did not respond to any alerts except to ask that the ship disembark survivors in Libya. "However, this is contrary to international law. MSF and SOS Mediterranee will not return survivors to Libya under any circumstance."
The Libyan authorities have failed to identify an alternative place to disembark rescued people that meets the requirements of international law. With no place of safety designated, the Ocean Viking is now headed north.
'MSF and SOS Mediterranee will not return survivors to Libya under any circumstance' - Médecins Sans Frontières
"All the rescues we conducted resulted from a meticulous observation of the context surrounding us. Maritime authorities did not share any information with us" says Nick Romaniuk, the SOS Mediterranee search and rescue coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking.
"Only once were we able to establish radio contact with one of three EU aircrafts spotting rubbers boat in distress. This shows how states are not putting their duty to save lives first," Romaniuk adds.
An overwhelming majority of people report to have experienced either arbitrary imprisonment, extortion, being forced to work in slavery-like conditions or torture during their journey.
Of the 103 children under the age of 18 now safely on board the Ocean Viking, only 11 of them are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
"People, including underage minors, have described being tortured with electric shocks, beaten with guns and sticks, or burned with melted plastic. They tell me how they still feel the pain from their wounds and scars sustained during their time in Libya," reported Dr Luca Pigozzi, MSF medical doctor on board the Ocean Viking.
MSF and SOS Mediterranee expect European authorities to follow international law and promptly assign a place of safety for the disembarkation of all on board the Ocean Viking.
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