Unrest threatens migrants on stranded rescue ship, says NGO

Italy has been adamant about not allowing migrant boats to disembark on its soil. — Reuters pic
Italy has been adamant about not allowing migrant boats to disembark on its soil. — Reuters pic

MADRID, Aug 14 — Fights may break out at any moment among migrants stranded on a rescue ship off the coast of Italy, the founder of a Spanish charity which operates the boat warned today.

“We could have a fight within a half-hour with a serious injury, or worse, someone could die on board due to violence,” Proactiva Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

“It would be a tragedy, it would be unforgivable.”

The 19 crew members on the Open Arms, which is sailing off the coast of Italy’s southern Lampedusa island with 147 migrants who were plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month, are finding it harder to contain tensions on board, he added.

Many of the migrants, mainly from Africa, are suffering from “very high levels of post-traumatic stress” and anxiety over their future.

They must share just two bathrooms and a living space of only 180 square metres (2,000 square feet), Camps said.

“There are arguments over a spot in the shade, over a spot in the sun, arguments over food, arguments over the queue to use the bathroom,” he said.

Weather conditions, which have worsened in recent days with high waves, have increased tensions since many passengers suffer from seasickness and are vomiting, Camps said.

“You have to remember that they suffered torture, violence, abuse of all types, slavery” on their way to Europe, he added.

Some migrants have started hunger strikes and Proactiva Open Arms has had to send in a team of psychologists and cultural mediators to try to restore order among the passengers who are from about a dozen different countries, Camps said.

“They have been on board for a long time... they can’t call their loved ones to tell them they are alive, there are fathers, children. They have absolutely no idea what will happen, this generates a lot of anxiety.”

Two babies were evacuated by helicopter from the ship to Malta today for health reasons, Camps said.

Both Malta and Italy have refused permission for the boat to dock and unload all the migrants.

Spain yesterday dismissed a request from the ship’s captain to take in the 31 minors on board the Open Arms, arguing that he did not have the legal authority to make an asylum request for them. — AFP

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