Migrants stuck at sea aboard rescue ship Ocean Viking for 11 days

Charities running search-and-rescue operations in central Mediterranean say no response from Malta or Italy yet.

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    The rescued group comprises people from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan [Stefan Dold/MSF]
    The rescued group comprises people from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan [Stefan Dold/MSF]

    More than 100 migrants and refugees are still stranded onboard a rescue ship in the central Mediterranean after being rescued from an overcrowded rubber boat 11 days ago.

    On October 18, a group of 104 people, including 10 women - two of them pregnant - and 41 minors were rescued 50 nautical miles (93km) from Libya's shores.

    Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, the charities operating the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, said they have requested permission to disembark in Malta or Italy but have not received any response despite a plan by some EU countries to resolve such cases quickly.

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    MSF staff onboard the Ocean Viking told Al Jazeera the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Center (LJRCC) assigned Tripoli as a place of safety for disembarkation.

    Libya is a major departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe. But figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in July showed at least 5,200 people are currently trapped in official detention centres, often in appalling conditions.

    "A first medical assessment showed all survivors in a stable condition. A few were weak due to the exhaustion and being exposed to the sun, with no water to drink. Many were dehydrated but have recovered," according to an MSF statement sent to Al Jazeera.

    "Many were quite emotional, especially mothers with children, when they came onboard and started crying out of relief that they survived." 

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    Thirty-one of the 41 minors rescued are unaccompanied, with six of those younger than 16 years. Two infants - aged two months and 11 months - were also rescued as part of the group.

    The standoff comes despite a plan revealed by some EU countries earlier this month to resolve such cases quickly.

    At a meeting of EU interior ministers in October, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to participate in the "fast-track" plan by Germany, France, Italy and Malta, which would screen migrants, relocate asylum seekers, and return people who do not apply or qualify for asylum, all within four weeks.

    "This isn't how you treat people who have been rescued from a boat in distress. This is adding to their anxiety, mental suffering and the mental trauma," Jay Berger, MSF project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking, told Al Jazeera.

    "This, again, shows lack of care, lack of dignity that Europe puts on the people that are in need of rescue and care. They should be treated with dignity and respect they deserve."

    MSF officials said the "cold-related symptoms, like running noses, coughing, head and body pain, reinforced by the more challenging weather conditions accompany the more invisible mental health conditions where people are less hungry, more easily agitated, less patient due to the lack of control they have over their situation".

    The sea route between Libya and Italy is the world's deadliest for migrants and refugees, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. Almost 700 people have died or gone missing crossing the central Mediterranean this year, according to UN's Missing Migrants Project.

    At least 18,000 people have lost their lives in Mediterranean crossings since 2014, according to the IOM. 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News