Libya migrant rescue ship seeks Christmas port

Italy’s Interior Minister and deputy PM Matteo Salvini has accused aid groups of acting as a "taxi service" for migrants, whom he has denied access to Italian ports while Malta too has been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels (AFP Photo)
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Rome – A civilian ship with 33 migrants aboard rescued off the Libyan coast appealed Sunday for a European port to take them to before the weather turns at Christmas.

German NGO ship Sea Watch 3 rescued the migrants, including four women and six children, when they were in difficulty attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on Saturday.

“We have requested a port of safety to disembark those people,” Sea Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP. “There is no country willing so far to offer the people safe port.”

Requests to receive the Dutch-flagged vessel have been made to several countries, he said, and Italy and Malta have refused.

Their governments say that they have to bear an unfair burden of migrants arriving from Africa.

“We will try everything to get a port of safety before Christmas, because on the 25th the weather is worsening, so we urge European states to find a solution within the next 24 hours,” Neugebauer said.

The rescued migrants include people from Nigeria, Libya and Ivory Coast.

A Spanish civilian rescue ship with over 300 migrants also rescued off Libya was on Saturday authorised to sail to Spain after Malta and Italy declined to let it come to port.

A newborn baby and his mother were helicoptered from the ship operated by Proactiva Open Arms to safety in Malta.

Sea Watch said that they had attempted to contact the Libyan search and rescue coordination centre but with no response.

More than 1,300 migrants have perished trying to reach Italy or Malta since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Aid groups have been sending rescue vessels into these waters despite vocal opposition from some leaders including Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Accusing the groups of acting as a “taxi service” for migrants, he has denied them access to Italy’s ports. Malta too has been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels.

A United Nations report on Thursday said that migrants and refugees are subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the moment they enter Libya, headed for the Mediterranean and Europe.

The climate of lawlessness in Libya provides fertile ground for illicit activities, leaving migrants and refugees “at the mercy of countless predators who view them as commodities to be exploited and extorted,” the report said.

The overwhelming majority of women and older teenage girls report having been gang raped by smugglers or traffickers, the report said.

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