On Monday, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operated by a European network of volunteers and NGO’s, managed to disembark more than 550 migrants at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, after they were rescued off the Libyan coast.
The migrants, including three pregnant women and more than 110 children, came from Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Mali, and Morocco. They were rescued in six operations in the Channel of Sicily.
The NGO said that the migrants had to wait for nearly one week in intense heat and crowded conditions on the ship, before the Italian Coast Guard authorized the vessel to dock in Pozzallo.
SOS Mediterranee, which runs the ship, tweeted that “the requests submitted to Malta over the disembarkation of the migrants were rejected, while we did not receive any response from Libya and Tunisia.”
Notably, The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has called on European states to increase search-and-rescue efforts.
An estimated 900 people died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean this year, while a further 250 died trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands from West Africa. It said that deaths were probably “far higher” with many shipwrecks going unspotted.
UN data showed more people were being intercepted or rescued by North African Coast Guard operations, including more than 15,000 who were returned to Libya.
“This is concerning given that migrants who are returned to Libya are subjected to arbitrary detention, extortion, disappearances and torture,” the UN said.