Europe takes in over 100 rescued migrants after 11 days at sea

Aid agencies have called on Europe to agree a coordinated disembarkation policy

In this photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, migrants stand on a dinghy boat off the coast of Libya. A humanitarian aid group said gunmen on Libya-flagged speedboats threatened the crew of its rescue ship Alan Kurdi and the migrants it was rescuing Saturday, firing shots into the air and water. Sea-Eye's spokesman Gorden Isler told The Associated Press that the unprecedented incident on the Mediterranean Sea was a "total shock" for the rescue crew, but that they managed to bring all the roughly 90 migrants on board. (Sea-Eye via AP)
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France, Germany and Italy on Tuesday reached an agreement to take in nearly 200 migrants after they were forced to stay at sea, some for 11 days, while the rescue ships searched for a safe port.

It came after aid agencies had urged European countries to agree a coordinated disembarkation process for humanitarian ships operating in the Mediterranean.

Some 104 survivors had been "left in limbo on the deck of a rescue ship" after being rescued off the Libyan coast on October 18 by the Ocean Viking, which is chartered by SOS Mediterranee in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Around 50 patients were treated for sea sickness and several patients for respiratory infections.

As well as the Ocean Viking's passengers, the rescue boat Alan Kurdi, operated by German group Sea Eye, had been looking for a safe port. It saved 90 migrants who got into difficulty in the Mediterranean on Saturday and had warning shots fired towards it from masked Libyan gunmen on boats.

MSF’s head of mission Michael Fark said: “We are relived and appreciate that France, Germany and Italy have finally found a solution”.

But Mr Fark expressed his frustration that offers for help were not forthcoming from more European states.

“It’s disappointing that only three states were part of this solution,” he said, adding that “all European states must live up to their principles.”

“These prolonged, inhumane standoffs must not continue,” he added.

“In the past four months, several European leaders met on three occasions (in Paris, Malta and Luxembourg) showing a will to establish a temporary disembarkation and distribution mechanism for people rescued in the Central Mediterranean,” said Louise Guillaumat, deputy director of SOS Mediterranee’s operations.

Her statement refers to plans discussed earlier in October by some EU states to run a pilot project for six months to develop a disembarkation system respecting international law.

“Yet today, 104 survivors are once again left in limbo on the deck of a rescue ship with no solution for their disembarkation in sight, adding to their suffering after being rescued from distress at sea. Europe can and should show more solidarity towards its coastal States,” she added.

The Ocean Viking had requested a place of safety to Italian and Maltese authorities but was not assigned one. Libya has said the port at its capital Tripoli should be a place of safety, but the Ocean Viking said no. It says no port in Libya can be considered acceptable under international law.

MSF officials said every patient it had seen at its clinic had reported being a victim or witness to violence or sexual assault at some point in their journey.

Many survivors said they had been trapped in Libya for many years, some saying they fled because of a surge in violence in April

Ms Guilaumat said there could not be a return to a “one-off” and “ad-hoc” approach over the last 16 months.

“Unnecessary standoffs will only end if a broader coalition of willing European countries come together to support countries of disembarkation without further delay,” she added.