The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) have called for the immediate disembarkation of more than 400 rescued migrants and refugees currently on board three vessels in the Central Mediterranean.
Some 27 migrants and refugees, including pregnant woman and children who departed from Libya have been on board the commercial vessel Maersk Etienne for an unacceptable three-week period since their rescue on August 05.
“A commercial tanker cannot be considered a suitable place to keep people in need of humanitarian assistance or those who may need international protection,” the UNHCR and IOM said.
The Banksy funded rescue vessel Louise Michel has more than 200 other rescued refugees and migrants in urgent need of transfer as the number is currently far beyond its safe carrying capacity, after having intervened a rescue early Saturday morning.
A further 200 rescued people on the Sea Watch 4 NGO vessel and should also be promptly provided with a safe port.
UNCHR and IOM said a solution must be found, the vessels provided with a safe port for disembarkation, and appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures implemented once they reach dry land.
Any delays could jeopardize the safety of all people onboard, including its crew members, said the agencies.
“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts.”
“The lack of agreement on a regional disembarkation mechanism, long called for by UNHCR and IOM, is not an excuse to deny vulnerable people a port of safety and the assistance they need, as required under international law,” said the agencies in a joint statement.
The UNHCR and IOM are deeply concerned about the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean.
“With relatively fewer NGO vessels compared to previous years, the gap is being increasingly filled by commercial vessels. It is vital that they are permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end,” said the agencies. (Source: UNHCR)