After a long standoff and amid an ongoing global refugee crisis, European nations led by anti-immigrant Italian politicians have forced a migrant rescue ship that has saved tens of thousands of people trapped in international waters between Libya, Italy, and Malta to cease operations.
“This is a dark day… The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”
—Nelke Manders, MSF
“Europe condemns people to drown,” warned Médecins Sans Frontières—also known as MSF or Doctors Without Borders—which operated the ship, Aquarius, with its partner SOS MEDITERRANEE. With just this vessel, the groups have rescued an estimated 30,000 people since February of 2016.
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“This is a dark day,” declared MSF general director Nelke Manders. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”
As the BBC noted, citing data from the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM), “more than 2,000 people have died or gone missing making crossings this year, compared to more than 3,000 last year.” At least a dozen people died this week, according to IOM, when a rubber boat that had spent more than 10 days at sea capsized off the Libyan coast.
Despite such tragedies, the world’s richest nations have turned their backs on those fleeing crises in their homelands. As journalist Naomi Klein wrote for The Intercept last week:
Humanitarian organizations and activists, meanwhile, are increasingly outraged by such moves.
“In absence of European states’ rescue capacities, absurd investigations & criminalization of search & rescue will cost lives,” tweeted Amnesty International migration campaigner María Serrano Martin. “We stand with #Aquarius.”
“In doing this, European leaders have shown where their true priorities lie: the closure of the central Mediterranean route for refugees and migrants, even at the cost of a soaring death toll at sea,” said Amnesty International secretary general Kumi Naidoo. “Today we salute the Aquarius and her courageous crew. We will continue to stand with them in defiance of cruel and unlawful policies condemning people to die at sea.”
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