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1 Jul, 2017 21:02

Italy’s threat to close ports from migrant rescue ships is a cry for help – MSF mediator to RT

Italy’s threat to close its ports for rescue vessels in the Mediterranean is nothing but a call for help addressed to the EU from the country, struggling with the influx of migrants, Sarah Adeyinka, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) cultural mediator, told RT.

“That is a major cry for help by the Italian authorities,” Adeyinka said, commenting on reports that Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, raised the issue of closing ports to humanitarian refugee rescue ships during talks with EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, earlier this week.

“Last week alone, over 12,000 people were rescued and brought to Italian ports. Italy can’t handle it alone. It’s a call for European countries to take responsibility. The EU is one union and they have signed agreements to help each other. And it does seem that Italy is left to handle it by themselves now,” she said.

READ MOREL 'Impossible & risky to take in more migrants' – Rome mayor

If Rome fulfils its threat, the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) operations in the Mediterranean won’t be affected as their vessel Prudence is registered under the Italian flag.

“So it’s not a problem for us (MSF), but you have other charities and organizations, who are on the Mediterranean and saving lives, and that’s going to be a big challenge for them,” the cultural mediator said.

Adeyinka also turned down accusations voiced by Italian prosecutors in mid-May that the MSF was colluding with people smugglers, rescuing migrants at sea without notifying the country’s coast guard.

“We would like to see the evidence,” she said, adding that that Doctors Without Borders have been “very transparent” about their rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.

“We tweet our location so people see where we are. Our goal really is to save lives. We’re not there to bring people in colluding with smugglers. There’s no benefit for us in that… That’s’ ridiculous. That’s’ absurd,” the cultural mediator explained.

She said that the MSF vessels have rescued 7,000 migrants since the beginning of this year, with around 2,000 dying on their way to Europe in 2017, which proves that “there’s a crisis happening.”

The conditions, in which the refugees are travelling, are “deplorable… really horrible,” with rubber boats (dinghies) being the scariest, Adeyinka said.

The migrants have “very little on. So they (the smugglers) can fit as many people as possible” into the boats, she added.

“Sometimes there are dead people in the dinghies – people drowning in few centimeters of water because of the panic” caused by petrol leaks and other complications onboard the vessels, the MSF representative said.

“And in the wooden boats, sometimes they create lower decks to put people under there and they would sometimes inhale a lot of fumes,” she said, adding that hypothermia was also behind many fatalities.

Work on an MSF rescue vessel is “very challenging physically, emotionally and even mentally because you have to prepare yourself for anything,” Adeyinka said.

“There could be deaths… There could be pregnant women. We had children born onboard the Aquarius and Prudence,” she said.

Asylum seekers trying to cross the Mediterranean are comprised of those fleeing violence in Nigeria, Libya, Syria and other countries as well as victims of “human trafficking and sexual exploitation where people are being brought into Italy for the purpose of being forced into prostitution,” the cultural mediator said.

According to Adeyinka , an increasing number of Libyans has been arriving recently as numerous “people are being killed, raped, held hostage” in the country.

“We had people aboard, who have been kidnapped over five times. They were willing to get out no matter what and they said: ‘Even if we die, it’s better than staying in Libya,” she said.

Around half a million migrants have arrived to Italy on boats since the start of the European refugee crisis in 2014.

Last year, the country was forced to take in 181,000 people, with another 75,000 migrants already crossing in 2017.