French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Monday an MSF vessel has been detained in Italy, reports Reuters. The charity suggests the seizure was politically motivated.
The Medecins Sans Frontieres ship, the “Geo Barents”, rescued hundreds of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean last month. Italy seized the ship on July 2 in Augusta, Sicily, during an inspection which found 22 deficiencies, the charity said in a statement.
Thousands of migrants make crossing every year
Every year, thousands of migrants embark on the crossing from Libya to Europe. They are often in small, inflatable boat.
In 2021, to date, 866 migrant deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean, according to the U.N. migration agency. The majority of them, 723, died on the central Mediterranean route where the MSF vessel was operating.
MSF claims political objectives behind the seizure
MSF said it is willing to comply with the authorities’ requirements but added the inspections “represent an opportunity for authorities to pursue political objectives under the guise of administrative procedures”.
Further, MSF said Italian authorities had detained NGO vessels on 13 occasions since 2019. Four of those are currently detained, “leaving almost no lifesaving activities in the central Mediterranean Sea”.
In their press release, MSF said:
We launched the Geo Barents in May, fully equipped and certified to perform search and rescue activities, while adhering to the current rules and regulations put in place by the relevant maritime authorities.
“While port state controls are legitimate maritime procedures, developed to ensure the safety of navigation at sea, these inspections have been instrumentalised by state authorities to target NGO ships in a discriminatory way,” says Duccio Staderini, MSF SAR Representative. “We can therefore only conclude that this is politically motivated.”
Italian port authorities in Augusta declined to comment.
UN report partly blames EU for migrant deaths
A U.N. report in May said the EU and member states were partly to blame for migrant deaths. This was due to various factors including obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts.
The report damned the EU and its member states, saying the EU has cut back its own official search and rescue operations. Not only that, governments prevent humanitarian agencies from rescuing migrants in distress by impounding their vessels.
The “Geo Barents” rescued more than 400 people including dozens of unaccompanied children from rubber and wooden and fibreglass boats in back-to-back operations during June.
Only last week, migrants drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Lampedusa.