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MORE than 70 refugees jumped overboard from an NGO rescue ship today in a desperate bid to swim to Palermo on the Italian island of Sicily.
Seventy-six of the 275 refugees on board the Open Arms threw themselves into the water in the morning, their ninth day waiting for a European country to let them come ashore.
The Open Arms’s crew managed to provide the 76 with lifejackets before the Italian coastguard brought them to land.
The crew rescued 278 people, including two pregnant women and 56 children, as they escaped Libya in three separate rubber boats across the central Mediterranean in four days last week. Two of the rescues took place within Malta’s search-and-rescue zone.
Last Sunday, both the Italian and Maltese authorities denied the ship’s doctor’s request for an emergency medical evacuation for the women and nine others with severe burns.
On Tuesday night, however, the Italian coastguard did evacuate the two pregnant women and the husband of one of them to Sicily.
The Open Arms arrived off the coast of Palermo on Wednesday and continues to wait for the Italian coastguard to authorise it to disembark the rescued.
Oscar Camps, the founder of the Spanish charity Open Arms which operates the ship, blasted EU member states on Twitter today for making the crew beg them to uphold human rights law.
“Given that their human rights had already been violated, the authorities must ensure their physical and mental integrity.
“These are people at risk who only seek to access the rights recognised by international conventions, which some countries trample on.”
German charity Sea Watch was also on the scene this morning and had deployed their rubber boats ready to assist.
Sea Watch spokesperson Mattea Weihe told the Star that civilian rescuers are experiencing a new peak in criminalisation against their missions.
“Next to other NGO vessels, the Sea-Watch 3 is still under an administrative block by the Italian authorities. Now also our reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird was grounded in Lampedusa.
“The reasonings are again beyond absurd. Because Moonbird flew too many ours, the airplane is not allowed to take off. With all means, the authorities are trying to make sure that no-one is able to witness their criminal behavior in the central Mediterranean.
“The Sea-Watch 4 has finished its quarantine period and is now demanding to proceed their journey. However, it becomes very clear that the Italian authorities are planning to do a port state control which will - onve again - most probably lead to an arbitrary blockade of the vessel.
“Even though the ship comes fresh out of a long shipyard period, the authorities urge the need to conduct such a control on board.
“It becomes clear that the reason behind it is not the concern about ship safety but the systematic act to prevent us from operating.”
Elsewhere in the central Mediterranean, German rescue charity Sea Eye’s ship, the Alan Kurdi, is on its way to the Libyan search-and-rescue zone.
“When I heard that Alan’s ship was leaving the port, I started to pray,” said Abdullah Kurdi, father of the four-year-old boy whose body was seen in photographs around the world after washing up on a Turkish beach in 2015 and from whom the ship takes its name.
“May God light the way of Alan Kurdi’s ship so that it can save more people. My thoughts and prayers are with the crew.”
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