German NGO Sea-Eye said on Saturday that its rescue vessel Alan Kurdi operating in the central Mediterranean would head to Malta after being denied access to Italian territorial waters near the island of Lampedusa.
Italy has banned humanitarian vessels rescuing migrants off the coast of Libya access from live-saving ports.
“In the evening, the Alan Kurdi changed its course towards Malta,” Sea-Eye said in a tweet. “Now it has to be proven whether the European governments stand by Italy’s attitude. Human lives are not a bargaining chip.”
Read more: Europe’s migrant rescue boats face uncertain future
Sea-Eye’s Marcel Ditt, who is on board the Alan Kurdi, told DW on Saturday that the boat’s crew had rescued 65 migrants, many of them unaccompanied minors.
“All of them are very exhausted, some of them are in bad conditions, you can see that they have been in a horrible place for months,” said Ditt. “We started talking to some of them, and some have been in detention centers in Libya for five years.”
The Alan Kurdi rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya but refused to port in the North African country, saying the country wasn’t safe and that international law required those rescued be brought to a safe port.
The Sea-Eye’s decision to head to Malta comes hours after an Italian rescue ship of the humanitarian group Mediterranea disobeyed Italian orders and made port in Lampedusa. Migrants on board were allowed to disembark on Sunday.
Read more: Sea-Watch rescuers slam ‘shameful’ German, EU refugee policy
Sea-Eye crew told DW that they refused to handover the migrants to Libyan authorities, citing unsafe conditions in the country
Italy is under pressure to provide much-needed assistance to migrants rescued at sea after authorities attempted to physically block the Sea-Watch 3 from landing in Lampedusa. German captain Carola Rackete was arrested shortly after, triggering an outcry from many European citizens.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer,once adamant about preventing irregular migrants from entering Germany, urged Italy’s hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to open the ports.
Seehofer said he proposed taking in some of the migrants on the ships under a European solution that would be coordinated by Brussels.
“We cannot be responsible for ships with rescued people aboard being adrift for weeks on the Mediterranean,” Seehofer said in his appeal.ph
Nearly half a million irregular migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and made landfall in Italy since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration. Since January, 426 migrants have died attempting the perilous journey.
Read more: Follow the money: What are the EU’s migration policy priorities?
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ls/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)