Tue | Jun 2, 2020

UN urges reluctant EU nations to help stranded migrants

Published:Wednesday | August 14, 2019 | 9:27 AM
In this photo taken Saturday and released Sunday, August 11, 2019, a rubber dinghy with over 80 migrants off the Libyan coast has received life vests from a rescue team of the Ocean Viking ship, operated by the NGOs Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders. (Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF/Sos Mediterranee via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.

The people rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which the Italian government has banned from its territory.

The archipelago nation of Malta has refused to let the ships into the country’s ports.

It’s unclear where they might find safe harbour, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest.

About 150 of the rescued passengers have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship, the Open Arms, since they were plucked from the Mediterranean 13 days ago.

“This is a race against time,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said in a statement. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.”

While the number of migrants reaching Europe by sea has dropped substantially so far this year, UNHCR says nearly 600 people have died or gone missing in waters between Libya, Italy, and Malta in 2019.

The agency said many of the people onboard the ships “are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships “must be immediately allowed to dock” and their passengers “allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid.”

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