Only one aid group’s rescue boat remains in the Mediterranean Sea to help shipwrecked refugees

A rescue boat ferrying migrants.
A rescue boat ferrying migrants.
Image: AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud
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For the tens of thousands of desperate asylum seekers in Libya, Europe offers the possibility of safety, security, and refuge. But getting there is a treacherous endeavor: of the roughly 2,300 people who have attempted to cross to Italy from northern Africa since the start of the year, about 15% have died en route.

Boats run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) search for shipwrecked people attempting to cross these perilous waters. But a clampdown by authorities has seized some and deflagged others, after Maltese and Italian politicians claimed that the aid groups’ rescue boats encouraged illegal crossings. Now, only one NGO boat out of 10 remains—despite the fact that about 76 people a day are still attempting the perilous crossing. Seawatch 3, as the boat is called, was seized by authorities for carrying 47 people, the Guardian reports. It is currently docked in Sicily, but will resume crossing to Libya later this week.

Fleeing migrants are currently forced to resort to people traffickers or dinghies to make it across the sea. Speaking to the British newspaper, Seawatch spokesperson Giorgia Linardi said it had identified 20 crossing dinghies in the past three weeks. “The situation is alarming. We sighted dinghies that waited hours and entire nights before being rescued,” she said. “These are intolerable conditions. It is absurd that there is no aid in the world’s most militarized and travelled maritime area.”

The conflict in Libya shows no sign of resolution, only increasing the need for departures. Without NGO rescue ships, the Mediterranean risks becoming “a sea of blood,” a spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency told the Guardian. “We are witnessing a sharp increase in departures. Obviously, migrants have no say in how or when to leave. The traffickers make that decision for them. They couldn’t care less if the people arrive dead or alive,” she said. The boats she had seen were “overflowing with people.”