In Brief

Why migrant rescue ships are missing from the Mediterranean

Aid agencies warns thousands of people risk dying at sea because of anti-immigration policies in Europe

NGO migrant rescue ships have been absent from the central Mediterranean for the longest period since they began operating in 2015, according to The Guardian.

Due to a crackdown by European countries, vessels have not been operating in one of the most dangerous sea crossings for refugees and migrants for more than two weeks.

Aid agencies told the newspaper that the anti-immigration policies enforced by governments in Italy and Malta could result in thousands of people dying on the main route from North Africa to Europe.

“This tragedy has been going on for years and is especially bad now,” says Frederic Penard, the director of operations for the NGO SOS Mediterranee. “There are fewer boats, and with fewer boats there are fewer rescues, and there are more deaths.”

Earlier this month, the UN warned that the death rate for migrants attempting to reach Europe has risen even though the numbers trying to make the crossing has fallen.

The report blamed the increase in the death rate on fewer NGO boats being active on the Libyan coast, The Daily Telegraph says.

Despite the decrease in people attempting the journey, the issue remains deeply divisive across southern Europe.

Italy has previously closed its ports to NGO ships carrying rescued refugees and migrants, including unaccompanied children and pregnant women.

The country’s decision, part of the new far-right government’s promise to halt the flow of people into the country, has forced NGOs to dock in other countries or abandon their rescue missions altogether.

The Aquarius, which was forced to detour to Spain after Italy and Malta closed their ports to it, is due to depart from France in the next few days but its NGO operators, MSF and SOS Mediterranee, “cannot guarantee” its constant presence in the sea, The Guardian says.

Under a deal struck between Libya and the Italian authorities in 2017, the North African nation’s coastguard returns rescued refugees and migrants back to the country, where human right groups warn they are detained and mistreated.

“Italy has obtained what it wanted,” said Fulvio Vassallo, an asylum law professor at the University of Palermo. “Rome has managed to get rid of the eyes of the NGOs, who could testify to the abuses of the Libyan coastguard.”

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