Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Rescuers save nearly 400 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

The rescued migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.

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Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68km from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.

The Ocean Viking on Saturday had also rescued 196 migrants off Libya, the humanitarian ship’s operator said.

It first picked up 57 people in an inflatable dinghy struggling in international waters off the North African country, SOS Mediterranee said.

In the afternoon, the ship’s crew carried out two additional rescues in the same area, plucking 54 people from a dinghy and 64 others from a wooden vessel.

SOS Mediterranee accuses EU governments of neglecting coordinated search-and-rescue action to discourage migrants from attempting the crossing from war-torn Libya, where they are often victims of organised crime and militia violence.

Libyan authorities are also accused of forcibly returning intercepted ships to Libya, even when they are in European waters.

A UN Human Rights Office report in late May urged Libya and the EU to overhaul their rescue operations, saying existing policies “fail to prioritise the lives, safety and human rights” of people attempting to cross from Africa.

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