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German charity warns of Mediterranean refugee 'emergency'

July 9, 2024

European countries are not doing enough to address the crisis in the Mediterranean, rescue NGO Sea-Eye has said. The group said it responded to five distress calls in one 24-hour period, saving 230 people.

The rescue ship "Sea-Eye 4"
Migrant rescue operations have argued that the policies of countries like Italy are putting lives at riskImage: Bernd Wüstneck/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

German charity Sea-Eye said on Tuesday that European countries, particularly Italy, were hampering its ability to deal with the "state of emergency" in the Mediterranean Sea

The NGO said that in the last 24 hours alone, it had been called five times to save refugees attempting the dangerous crossing. 

"Five rescues in 24 hours. That shows the state of emergency in the Mediterranean at the moment, and how important it is that we are there to save lives," Sea-Eye said in a statement, adding that 230 people had been saved.

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Rome hampering rescue efforts

The group transported the refugees to the Italian coast guard, but it continues to risk massive fines from Rome, which Sea-Eye says significantly impacts its ability to save lives.

Moreover, the charity argues, it is directed by the government to far-away ports. In this case Genoa, marking a six-day round trip.

"By sending civilian rescue ships to distant ports... we are losing valuable time in the search and rescue zone, during which we cannot help people in need," said Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler.

Since coming to power in 2022, far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government has sought to prevent boats ferrying refugees from entering the country. It has argued that rescue ships from organizations like Sea-Eye encourage people to make the often dangerous trip from North Africa.

Charities risk fines of up to 10,000 euros ($10,725) for failure to comply with orders from the Italian coast guard, as well as having their ships (sometimes repeatedly) detained.

es/lo (AFP, epd)