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Montevideo, September 19th 2018 - 09:56 UTC

“Don't abandon refugees at sea” MSF calls on Europe and Italy

Saturday, October 4th 2014 - 09:41 UTC
Full article 6 comments
From January to August, MSF teams in Pozzallo conducted medical screening for nearly 19,000 people in 64 landings From January to August, MSF teams in Pozzallo conducted medical screening for nearly 19,000 people in 64 landings
“As long as the desperate are forced to take this perilous route, Italy and the EU must stand up and respond to the humanitarian disaster” said Stefano Di Carlo “As long as the desperate are forced to take this perilous route, Italy and the EU must stand up and respond to the humanitarian disaster” said Stefano Di Carlo

One year after the tragic shipwreck off the island of Lampedusa in Italy, wars such as in Syria, protracted crises and chaos in Libya continue to push an unprecedented number of refugees to Europe.

 As the patients MSF medical teams see in Sicily are increasingly more vulnerable, the European Union must continue active search and rescue operations to save lives in the Mediterranean, said Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Whilst conflicts around the world multiply, the EU continues to close its borders, leaving the sea as the only option for many to reach Europe and claim international protection. MSF is providing urgent medical care and mental health support at two of Sicily’s largest landing sites, Augusta and Pozzallo, to thousands fleeing the war in Syria, persecution in Eritrea and abject poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Worrying signs by Italian and EU authorities indicate the possible termination of Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation, whilst the announced EU “Frontex plus” mission may be more limited, for example only patrolling Italian territorial waters.

“As long as the desperate are forced to take this perilous route, Italy and the EU must stand up and respond to the humanitarian disaster unfolding on their doorstep,” said Stefano Di Carlo, MSF Italy Head of Mission. “Thousands of lives would be at stake should international waters, where many tragic shipwrecks occur, fail to be actively patrolled.”

The Central Mediterranean route is the most dangerous of all the routes to reach Europe, not only due to the risk of dying at sea but also for the extreme violence often experienced along the way. The patients that MSF medical teams see in Sicily are increasingly more vulnerable. Victims of violence and torture, disabled people, pregnant women, and children are fleeing for their lives, leaving behind conflict, persecution and poverty.

“In all the years we have provided medical care to migrants and refugees in Italy, we have never seen so many women and children,” said Di Carlo. “They flee one danger straight into the arms of another on rickety boats they can only hope will bring them to safety. Many have suffered shipwrecks, witnessed people drowning, or lost their loved ones.”

The chaos engulfing Libya has funnelled thousands of people through to Europe, with 90% of arrivals departing from its coast. People working in Libya or using its coast as a jumping off point to reach Europe are especially vulnerable to its instability. Due to deteriorating insecurity, MSF was forced to suspend operations in Tripoli in mid-July.

“One 17 year-old Senegalese girl told us she was going to visit her parents in Libya where they were living and working, only to find that they had been killed,” said Di Carlo. “She had no way to return home as the borders were shut, so she took a boat to escape the violence. Yet her trauma did not end there – the boat carrying her sank and she fears to ever see the sea again.”

From January to August, MSF teams in Pozzallo conducted medical screening for nearly 19,000 people in 64 landings. The majority of people arrive in fairly good physical health conditions, as they are rescued early on by Mare Nostrum. Most of the medical problems treated are related to the journey before the sea, such as traumas, skin diseases from lack of hygiene in detention centers in Libya, and respiratory tract infections. In August, MSF set up a clinic at the port of Augusta with 582 outpatient consultations in the first month, of which 71 people reported to have been victims of violence.

“Whilst the deadly shipwrecks in recent weeks demonstrate the obvious need for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, it is equally clear that people are risking their lives because there are no other safe and legal ways to reach Europe,” said Di Carlo. “It is outrageous that sea rescue operations are needed in the first place. People should not have to risk their lives for a second time when they are already fleeing danger in their home countries.”

Categories: Politics, International.

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  • CabezaDura2

    That was the reason why Berlusconi didn't want to se Gaddafi overthrown in Lybia it was not just about oil. Gaddafi had reached an agreement with him to stop immigrants pasing by Lybia. Now the humanitarian disaster will only get worse.

    Oct 04th, 2014 - 11:06 am 0
  • ilsen

    Why doesn't Europe put all the refugees on direct flights to Argentina?
    Would save a lot of money long term. Plenty of open spaces and resources there.
    Europe is getting quite crowded these days.
    Cristina thinks she is an international stateswoman, here is a great opportunity to prove it. Being a global leader is about giving, not just taking.

    Oct 04th, 2014 - 01:41 pm 0
  • Conqueror

    Best option will be to sink the 'refugee' boats at sea. Anybody told Africa it can move to Europe? In the middle of the Mediterranean, nobody will see you drown. Or care!

    Oct 04th, 2014 - 03:32 pm 0
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