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Breakthrough as Ireland agrees to help with relocation of people stranded on migrant rescue ship

356 migrants have been stranded aboard the Ocean Viking boat in the Mediterranean.

A rescue team of the Ocean Viking ship, operated by the NGOs Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, approaches a rubber dinghy with over 80 migrants off the Libyan coast.
A rescue team of the Ocean Viking ship, operated by the NGOs Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, approaches a rubber dinghy with over 80 migrants off the Libyan coast.
Image: Hannah Wallace Bowman via PA Images

IRELAND IS AMONG six EU countries who have agreed to take in people stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

This announcement comes after a two-week stand-off again exposed the failure of European leaders to quickly deal with desperate people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa.

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, run by charities MSF and SOS Mediterranee, had been seeking a port after rescuing four boats of migrants off the Libyan coast between 9 and 12 August.

356 migrants were aboard the ship.

After talks with the European Commission, Malta agreed its navy would transfer the people to the island but said they would not be allowed to stay.

They will be relocated to other member states, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted.

He listed destination countries as Ireland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke by phone today to the Maltese prime minister to confirm that Ireland will take a small number of migrants from the Ocean Viking. 

In a statement, the Department of Justice said that Ireland will take up up to 100 asylum seekers during the remainder of 2019. 

“As a gesture of solidarity with member states involved in the disembarkation of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, Ireland has in recent months offered to relocate a number of asylum seekers from Italy and Malta,” the Department said. 

On arrival in Ireland, their asylum applications are processed by the International Protection Office, according to the Department. They will also be included in the numbers admitted under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. 

“Up to now, requests for assistance have been responded to on a case-by-case basis. To provide greater certainty to the process, the Minister has decided to accept the relocation of up to 100 asylum seekers during the remainder of the year,” the Department said. 

“This figure takes account of the extremely tight accommodation situation that currently exists while at the same time showing solidarity with our EU colleagues.” 

Food running out

Rescue charities have been scathing of the lack of coordination and solidarity among EU member states in dealing with migration standoffs over the past years, with tens of thousands of people making the perilous trip across the Mediterranean.

“We are relieved this long ordeal for the 356 people we have on board is finally over. Was it necessary to impose two weeks of excruciating wait for rescued people to be disembarked?” said Jay Berger, MSF’s project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking.

“This 14-day standoff of the Viking Ocean was shocking,” Frederic Penard, director of operations at SOS Mediterranee, said in a statement.

We hope that the ad hoc solution implemented today will transform into the predictable and sustainable disembarkation mechanism promised many times by several European Union member states.

The charity said the Ocean Viking would now change crews, refuel and be resupplied before heading back to Libyan waters.

The boat had been denied entry to dock by both Malta and Italy and is just the latest in a string of migrant ship standoffs.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly insisted that rescued migrants can only land in Italy if other EU countries take them in.

As a political crisis plays out in Rome following the breakup of the coalition government, Salvini tweeted that he had been vindicated.

“As promised, we did not give the 356 migrants on the Ocean Viking permission to disembark in Italy. The safety of Italians comes first!” he wrote.

Fleeing conflict

Most of the migrants on the Ocean Viking are adult men. 

About two-thirds come from Sudan, with others from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal.

Four women and five young children, aged one to six, are also aboard.

Almost a hundred are under the age of 18.

The French government said it would take in 150 of those aboard.

Many were rescued from Libyan waters suffering from severe dehydration and sometimes borderline malnutrition, the boat’s medical team has said.

They have told stories of fleeing conflict-torn Libya to escape ill treatment, arbitrary detention and sometimes torture. 

MSF tries to ensure those rescued eat at least one hot dish a day, as well as providing cereal bars, protein biscuits and tea.

With limited water, those aboard are restricted to three-minute showers twice per week.

Includes reporting by © – AFP 2019 and Christina Finn

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