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Spanish aid boat stuck at sea rescues 39 more migrants

AP  |  Lampedusa (Italy) 

A Spanish humanitarian ship that has been stuck at sea for over a week because of Italy's refusal to let it disembark 121 migrants said it rescued 39 more people on Saturday, further complicating conditions on board.

The Open Arms boat said it made its latest rescue in international waters in the central Mediterranean, where it has been stranded for nine days after Italy and Malta denied it entry.

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said that Malta offered to allow the 39 new passengers to disembark, but still rejected taking the 121 the boat rescued last week.

"We cannot evacuate 39 people and tell the rest that they have to stay," Camps said.

Malta said that it was willing to accept the 39 migrants since it had launched its own rescue operation to reach the boat that was in its designated search-and-rescue area before the Open Arms got there first.

But the Maltese government said in a statement that the other 121 migrants were picked up "in an area where Malta is neither responsible nor the competent coordinating authority.

Malta can only shoulder its own responsibility since other solutions are not forthcoming."

Rescue ships face fines of 1 million euros if they enter Italian waters without permission, the latest move by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to suppress the NGOs that he has compared to migrant taxi services.

Camps remained defiant, saying that humanitarian needs protected by maritime law trump all else. Still, Open Arms is staying away from Italian waters despite the deteriorating and cramped conditions on board.

"We humanitarian organisations that are working at sea will resist, and no decree, no fine, no politician will stop us from protecting human life," Camps said at a conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Open Arms ship is in international waters near the island. Actor Richard Gere, who rented a boat to take food and water to the Open Arms on Friday, also made a call for politics to be set aside when lives are in danger.

"These are extraordinary people, they are so strong, they have been such through such horrors," Gere said about his visit with the people on the Open Arms.

"Their passage from their home counties to Libya, what they had to endure, the women above all. ... The women had been all raped, multiple times. The men tortured in prison, not just once but multiple times.

"What most people refer to as migrants, I refer to as refugees that are running from a fire."

While Gere said he was hesitant to talk about Italian affairs, he drew a comparison between Salvini and American president Donald Trump's own crackdown on immigrants.

"Demonising people has to stop everywhere on the planet," Gere said.

Also Friday, another NGO boat, run by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mditerrane, said it rescued 85 migrants in the central Mediterranean.

The International Organization for Migration says 840 people have died this year crossing the Mediterranean. Of those, 576 were on the perilous central route from Libya. That figure is down by half from a year earlier.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, August 10 2019. 18:00 IST