Skyrocketing deaths of migrants blamed on Italy crackdown
Deaths among migrants crossing the Central Mediterranean have "skyrocketed" to more than 600 in the past four weeks as a consequence of Italy's crackdown on NGO boats, two charities claimed yesterday.
A month after the Aquarius was turned away by Italy and Malta, leaving it stranded at sea with 630 migrants on board, the NGOs jointly operating the ship said political decisions in Europe had had "deadly consequences".
MSF and SOS Mediterranee said humanitarian operations were being "deliberately obstructed" and that NGOs were being prevented from saving the lives of people in danger of drowning.
The deaths or disappearances at sea of more than 600 people - among them babies and young children - in the past four weeks alone represented more than half the migrant fatalities in the Central Mediterranean so far this year, the NGOs said.
"Europe bears the responsibility of these deaths on its conscience," said Sophie Beau, the SOS Mediterranee vice-president.
Italy's new coalition government has hardened its stance on accepting charity-operated migrant rescue boats.
An Italian coastguard ship carrying 67 migrants rescued by a merchant vessel docked in Trapani, Sicily, yesterday amid accusations of death threats made against the crew.
Matteo Salvini, the hardline interior minister, called the alleged aggressors "pirates" and "criminals" and said he wanted them led off the ship in handcuffs.
Mr Salvini's blocking of NGO rescue boats from Italian ports and his pledge to expel half-a-million unauthorised migrants living in Italy has sent shock waves across Europe.
Yesterday EU interior ministers agreed the bloc's external borders must be protected at a meeting in Austria, but offered little in the way of concrete new proposals.
MSF and SOS Mediterranee blamed the recent increased number of deaths on NGO boats being effectively pushed out of the Central Mediterranean, where there have now been no charity rescue operations since late June.
Italy and other governments said the NGO operations had created a "calling effect" for migrants and been exploited by people traffickers.
But MSF and SOS Mediterranee said the deaths over the last month showed rescue operations must be in place as summer draws more crossings.
"There has been a cold-blooded decision to leave men, women and children to drown. This is outrageous and unacceptable," said MSF head of emergencies Karline Kleijer. (© Daily Telegraph, London)