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Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) pulls out about 6,500 people from 40 ships off the coast of Libya en route to Europe

Abraha is a relative of the migrant and paid about $2,000 to smugglers in Libya to help him cross the Mediterranean

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Migrants sailing in a crowded wooden boat carrying more than seven hundred migrants, are helped by members of an NGO during a rescue operation at the Mediterranean sea, about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya, Aug. 29, 2016. (VOA)
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In what one rescuer called an “extraordinary day,” about 6,500 people on Monday were pulled from some 40 ships off the coast of Libya en route to Europe.

Nicholas Papachrysostomou, field coordinator for Dignity I, a rescue ship in the Mediterranean operated by Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said the scale is unprecedented.

“All together, the number is awe-inspiring,” Papachrysostomou said. “In the history of search and rescue operation in the central Mediterranean, I don’t think we’ve ever seen this figure on one single day.”

The day began with MSF rescuers responding to a distress call relayed from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome. In a harrowing scene caught on camera by the Associated Press, rescuers encountered 600 to 700 people crammed inside a wooden boat. Nearby, were another 18 to 20 rubber boats, each with about 120 people on board, he said.

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MSF helped rescue about 3,000 people, and the Italian Coast Guard coordinated efforts to save about 3,500 more in separate operations. Calm water and low-winds during the morning were the reasons for the high numbers of people setting off for Europe that day, Papachrysostomou said.

Many of the refugees were from Eritrea and Somalia, although large numbers also originated from West Africa.

The wet personal belonging of a migrant man are spread out to dry in the sun after he was rescued from the Mediterranean sea, about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 (VOA)

Papachrysostomou said rescuers saw signs of physical abuse, malnourishment and suffering from exposure to the elements.

“The older ones are more vulnerable and the little children,” he said. “We come across cases where people are quite sick (from nausea). There’s hyperthermia. There’s fever. There are a number of conditions as a result of the journey, but we also have to consider that in order to get to Libya these people have had a long journey from their country,” he said as the migrants were being taken to Vibo Valentia, in southern Italy. “So they come with accumulated fatigue – and not just physical but also psychological.”

Abraha is a relative of the migrant and paid about $2,000 to smugglers in Libya to help him cross the Mediterranean.

The migrant’s journey began two years earlier in the town of Halay near Adi-Keyih, Eritrea. He left home because he saw no future there, Abraha said.

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“They want to lead their lives freely, and that’s why they left. That is their dream and their first goal is to lead their lives, be it through education and other means, and then they want to help others, families, they left behind.”

After leaving Eritrea, a two-year journey took Abraha’s relative from Ethiopia and Sudan to Libya. There, he fell in with smugglers and, according to Abraha, suffered beatings when he didn’t pay the money he owed.

“I know his voice… and I asked him because I was confused. I said why has your voice changed? He said they are beating me because I didn’t pay money and I am in bad condition.”

For Abraha’s relative and untold other migrants, a dramatic rescue at sea is only the latest chapter in a journey controlled by abusive smugglers. That’s why MSF, the Italian Coast Guard and other rescuers see saving lives as part of a broader mission to dismantle the smuggling networks that fuel Mediterranean migration.

To prevent smugglers from reusing their boats, military vessels destroy them after migrants have been safely evacuated, Papachrysostomou said.

These activities are part of Operation Sofia, a European Union effort to curtail migration by disrupting smugglers’ and traffickers’ business models.

Safe and legal passage to Europe is the only way to keep migrants out of the hands of smugglers, Papachrysostomou said.

“And this is why we believe, in Doctors without Borders, we believe that it is very important to reconsider the European policy. It is important to reconsider safe and legal passage because, the moment they don’t have this, this is when they would actually look for the smugglers, and this is where the smugglers become very important because they are the only way to get them across.” (VOA)

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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    The huge influx of migrants to Europe needs to be contained. UNHCR and other such organisation needs to do a better job in providing safe and legal passage.

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With The End Of Sea Rescue Operations, Migrants Death Will Increase: U.N.

The International Organization for Migration reports more than 2,100 people have died making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya to Europe this year.

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Refugees, Migrants
Lifejackets piled on this Greek beach have come to stand for the rigors and danger that migrants face trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. VOA

Leading U.N. humanitarian agencies warn migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea will multiply with the end of sea and rescue operations by Doctors Without Borders and its partner SOS Mediterranee.

The two international charities were pressured by the European Union to put their ship, the Aquarius into dry dock and abandon their life-saving rescue mission.

The Aquarius has been docked in Marseille, France, since early October after Panama revoked its registration at the behest of the right-wing, anti-immigration Italian government.

Refugees, Migrants
In this Aug. 27, 1994 file photo, U.S. Coast Guard crew from the cutter Staten Island are hindered by rough seas in the Florida Straits as they attempt to rescue Cuban refugees. VOA

Italy claims these operations encourage migrants to make the perilous sea journey. It says ending these activities will save lives, a claim hotly disputed by U.N. officials.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman, Shabia Mantoo, says search-and-rescue capacity needs to be reinforced rather than diminished.

“So, we do continue to call strongly for increasing search-and-rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean and for leaving space for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to contribute in a coordinated manner to these efforts,” said Mantoo. “Saving lives is our primary concern.”

Since it began operations in February 2016, the Aquarius has helped nearly 30,000 refugees and migrants in distress find a safe haven. U.N. Human Rights Spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, tells VOA she is deeply concerned by recent developments.

Refugees, Migrants
Representational Image of Refugees. Wikimedia Commons.

“The provision of support and assistance to migrants must not be criminalized,” said Shamdasani. “The decrease of search-and-rescue by humanitarian organizations and States failure to provide adequate search-and-rescue capacity is resulting in an increase of migrants, an increase of vulnerability of migrants at sea.”

Also Read: Refugees’ Entitled To Claim The Right To Asylum in The U.S: U.N.

Shamdasani says the death rate in the Central Mediterranean this year is much higher than in previous years. She says States must protect the lives and safety of migrants and ensure those who are at risk are rescued and offered immediate assistance.

The International Organization for Migration reports more than 2,100 people have died making the dangerous sea crossing from Libya to Europe this year. This is nearly two-thirds of the more than 3,300 deaths recorded globally in 2018. (VOA)