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Europe ‘record of shame’ over ports closed to sick children

The Dutch-flagged search and rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 is 55 metres (180 feet) long © AFP/File / Matthew Mirabelli

Rome, Italy, Jan 4 – Rights activists accused Europe on Friday of clinching a new “record of shame” with its refusal to open ports to migrant children and families stranded at sea in the Mediterranean.

The latest standoff involves 32 migrants who were rescued at sea on December 22 but have not yet been given permission to land anywhere.

“It’s now been 14 days left alone at sea. A new record of shame,” the Mediterranea collective of aid groups and associations said on Twitter as it launched a mission to deliver aid to those stranded in stormy weather off the coast of Malta.

Three children, aged one, six and seven, “are vomiting continuously, and are at risk of hypothermia and dehydration,” said Alessandro Metz of Mediterranea, an initiative which aims to protect migrant rights at sea.

The Sea-Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel which pulled the migrants to safety nearly two weeks ago, was on Wednesday given permission by Malta to shelter off its coast from the fierce winds — but not to land.

It is the latest of a string of incidents involving people rescued at sea but left stranded in the Mediterranean that has thrown a harsh spotlight on the ongoing deadlock within the European Union over sharing responsibility for migrants.

A help party including fresh crew members and German members of parliament sailed out to the vessel on Friday with supplies, including fresh water, for the migrants.

Among those on board are three unaccompanied adolescents and four women from Nigeria, Libya and Ivory Coast.

The German NGO Sea-Eye also has a ship stranded in the Mediterranean with 17 migrants on board.

Italy, Malta, Spain and the Netherlands initially refused to take them in, although Germany and The Netherlands later said they would take some of them — on condition that other nations did the same.

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– ‘Pathetic’ –

Number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean since 2013 © AFP

Several German and Italian cities have since offered to host them, with the mayor of Naples defying Italy’s hardline interior minister by saying he would lead the operation to disembark them himself if they approached the coast.

“EU ministers continue to bargain over 32 human beings. We might look miserable, but they are pathetic,” German charity Sea Watch said.

In a joint statement with Mediterranea, it said Friday’s aid mission aimed to “put pressure on Berlin, which has yet to give a positive answer to the dozens of German cities willing to take in those rescued”.

It also urged “European countries, beginning with Italy and Malta, to offer a safe port, as required under international law”.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF Sea) said there was “no justification for this degrading treatment”.

Migrants have frequently been left in limbo aboard ships that rescued them since Italy’s populist anti-immigration government began turning them away last summer.

Since coming to power more than six months ago, the Italian government has been demanding greater solidarity from reluctant fellow EU states.

But EU members have failed to agree on a permanent mechanism to relocate migrants who reach Europe’s shores, even though arrivals have dropped sharply since a peak more than three years ago.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year, according to the UN refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

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