“Politics has been put before the lives of people" EU governments slammed as Aquarius docks

The convoy carried over 600 rescued people after Malta and Italy refused to let the ship dock

“Politics has been put before the lives of people" EU governments slammed as Aquarius docks


International humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières has accused European governments of choosing political point-scoring over saving lives at sea as the Aquarius convoy carrying more than 600 migrants arrived in Spain.

They were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since - as the Italian government refused to allow them dock in Italy.

They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya.

The Government of Malta also refused to allow the ship to dock, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.

Eventually the new socialist government in Spain stepped in and said that the Aquarius would be allowed to dock in Valencia - at least a four-day voyage away.

The ship's plight has highlighted the failure of EU states to deal with the influx of migrants from the Mediterranean.

Image: Médecins Sans Frontières

This afternoon, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced the Italian Government’s actions – and “European governments’ choice of political point-scoring over saving lives at sea.”

Irish nurse Aoife Ní Mhurchú, who has been on board the Aquarius in recent days, said the standoff was an example of politics being “put before the lives of people.”

“Politics has been put before the lives of people,” she said.

“The decision to close the ports in Italy was reckless,” she said. “What has gone on this week should not set a precedent for future rescues.”

"Rescued people need to be disembarked in the nearest port of safety where they can receive adequate care.

“Vulnerable people should not be used as pawns in a political game.”

She said it was a relief to arrive in Valencia, with the rescued people assured they will not have to “go back to horrific conditions in Libya.”

She warned that the journey to Spain had been “really difficult” with a number of people now needing further medical treatment.

Migrants onboard the French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" Aquarius ship Orione as it arrives at the eastern port of Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 17-06-2018. Image: Alberto Saiz/AP/Press Association Images

MSF is calling on all European governments to ensure that rescued people are brought to closest safe port possible,, where they can receive Adequate care and begin the process of applying for asylum or other forms of protection.

The group warned that authorities must not obstruct NGO search and rescue operations and urged Europe to “set up a proactive, dedicated search and rescue mechanism in the Central Mediterranean.”

“The men, women, and children on board the Aquarius have fled conflict and poverty, and have survived horrific abuse in Libya,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF Head of Emergencies.
“They have been shipped from one boat to another like cargo and endured the elements on an unnecessarily long journey at sea.

“We are grateful to Spain for stepping in, even as Italian and other European governments have shamefully failed in their humanitarian responsibilities and placed politics over the lives of vulnerable people.”

The Aquarius is one of only a few remaining independent non-governmental search and rescue vessels still operating in the Central Mediterranean.

By June 8th it had rescued and/or transferred 2,350 people in 2018.