Rescued in the Mediterranean, 180 migrants have been stranded on board the humanitarian ship for more than a week, leading to a deterioration in security conditions.
The SOS Mediterranean association ensures that the safety of staff and migrants on board the “Ocean Viking” is no longer guaranteed and declares a state of emergency on its humanitarian ship, where 180 rescued migrants are waiting to be able to disembark from ten days. While some survivors jump into the water or make suicide attempts, Sophie Beau, director general and co-founder of the humanitarian association, explains on Saturday July 4 on Franceinfo that “the situation is critical and it can change, it can escalate from one moment to the next”.
How did the situation deteriorate in order to arrive at suicide attempts, violence, strong tension aboard the “Ocean Viking”?
It is a long wait for those who were rescued on June 25. We have 180 survivors on board, these are people who have passed through the camps in Libya, who therefore arrive on board in a very significant psychological and physical distress situation, following the violence they may have suffered in the camps. in Libya, then a crossing of the sea which could last three, four, five days for some of them, to drift on makeshift boats. So they arrive in a catastrophic psychological state on board. Our teams welcome them, take care of them, treat them, but their psychological distress is very very important. Among the survivors, a group of around forty people have really developed very very great anxiety, agitation, signs of violence, fights, suicide attempts in recent days. It is exasperation and anger after this unbearable wait in front of the Maltese coast, equidistant between Malta and Italy. (…) The wait is unbearable, the pressure is enormous. I stress the urgency, we are no longer able to guarantee the safety of personnel and survivors.
What do you need on your ship?
The team on board needs assistance to be able to manage this situation. We have just received on board an Italian medical team which participated with our medical team to tour each of the survivors in this group, this is not the adequate response. The solution we need today, and it is urgent and we have not stopped repeating it for 9 days, is an immediate landing in safety, in a safe place, in accordance with maritime law, which intimate that the landing is organized by the coastal State, without any delay. That’s the urgency. It is not possible to send psychologists and psychiatrists to tell people to wait, it is not possible. The situation is critical and it can change; it can degenerate from one moment to the next.
Your vessel has already been stranded at sea for several days or even weeks. How is the current situation unprecedented?
We have made seven requests, we have reiterated our requests every day to the Maltese authorities which have been the first concerned, since three out of four rescues took place in the waters which are in the Maltese search and rescue zone, and the fourth rescue was on horseback in Italian-Maltese waters. These Italian and Maltese authorities are fully responsible for coordinating the rescue until the end of the rescue, which only takes place when people have landed in a safe place. There, it is really a situation of political game with the life of the people. It is totally unacceptable today to reach these extremes. (…) We had blockages at sea in the past, quite long, with very complicated diplomatic discussions, but it was when the rescues took place in the Libyan search and rescue zone. It is unprecedented to have this type of expectation when the maritime law is extremely clear and the countries concerned are European countries, Italy and Malta in the first place.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic had consequences for the reception of survivors?
The agreements that had started to be put in place between a small group of European countries since last September were completely frozen during the pandemic, and the closing of the borders stopped all that. There is no longer any European solidarity and therefore our urgent appeal is also to all European states. We cannot leave Malta and Italy on the front line, we have been saying this for years. The consequence is that endangering the lives of people on a ship is supposed to provide them with safety. It is totally unacceptable and it is really the failure of politics. (…) We are talking to all the European countries to try to find a solution but no one takes responsibility and nothing has progressed to date. We have no sign of a quick solution and a conclusion that must occur within the next few hours. (…) The urgency is to find an immediate solution for these 180 people who are hostages of European politics.