People rescued in the Mediterranean need a place of safety

Rescued people are helped to board the Ocean Viking after being rescued by MSF and SOS Mediterranee on August 10 in the Central Mediterranean Sea.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA 2019 © Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF
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AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK, August 13, 2019—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS MEDITERRANEE are formally requesting that the Maltese and Italian maritime authorities coordinate and support finding a place of safety for 356 vulnerable men, women, and children rescued over the past four days in the central Mediterranean.

The rescued individuals are currently onboard the ship operated by the two organizations, the Ocean Viking. Malta and Italy have the next closest maritime coordination centers able to assist the survivors, after a lack of response from the Libyan authorities to the Ocean Viking's requests for a place of safety to disembark rescued people.

"Among the survivors are those bearing the harrowing signs of physical and psychological violence experienced during their journey through Libya," said Jay Berger, MSF project coordinator on the Ocean Viking. "The sobering reality is that there is an ongoing conflict in Libya where many vulnerable migrants and refugees are trapped in detention centers on the front line. We are now asking for a place of safety to disembark these vulnerable people without delay. They have suffered enough."

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Despite being contacted throughout four rescue operations that took place from August 9 to 12, the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Center did not respond to any alerts from the Ocean Viking, except to ask that the ship disembark survivors in Libya. However, this is contrary to international law, and MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE will not return survivors to Libya under any circumstance.

The Libyan authorities failed to identify an alternative place to disembark rescued people that meets the requirements of international law. With no place of safety designated, the Ocean Viking is now headed north.

"All the rescues we conducted only resulted from a meticulous observation of the context surrounding us," said Nick Romaniuk, SOS MEDITERRANEE search and rescue coordinator on the Ocean Viking. "Maritime authorities did not share any information with us. Only once were we able to establish radio contact with one of three European Union aircraft spotting rubber boat in distress. This shows how states are not putting their duty to save lives first."

An overwhelming majority of people report having experienced arbitrary imprisonment, extortion, being forced to work in slavery-like conditions, or torture during their journey. Of the total of 103 children under the age of 18 now safely onboard the Ocean Viking, only 11 are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

"People, including underage minors, have described being tortured with electric shocks, beaten with guns and sticks, or burned with melted plastic," said Luca Pigozzi, an MSF doctor on the Ocean Viking. "They tell me how they still feel the pain from their wounds and scars sustained during their time in Libya."

MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE expect European authorities to follow international law and promptly assign a place of safety for the disembarkation of all onboard the Ocean Viking.

The Ocean Viking is operated in partnership by SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF. For more information on the rescues visit https://onboard.sosmediterranee.org.

Update: August 14, 2019