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Mediterranean to turn into ‘sea of blood’ without rescue ships: UN warns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman, with the migrants who were stuck on a ship since their rescue in the Mediterranean 10 days ago, disembarks in Valletta, Malta, on April 13, 2019 after four European countries agreed to take the migrants in. (Photo by AFP)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the Mediterranean will soon turn into “a sea of blood” if the international community does not help in sending enough rescue ships to save the lives of thousands of refugees desperately wandering in the rough sea.

“If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood,” said Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR spokeswoman, in Italy on Sunday, warning that there has been a “sharp increase” in refugees’ Europe-bound departure from North African countries, particularly conflict-wracked Libya.

She also said that the risk of migrants and refugees becoming shipwrecked in the Mediterranean and dying at sea was the highest it had ever been due to the insufficient number of NGO rescue ships, noting that the persisting conflict and chaos in Libya increasing departures at an alarming rate.

Thousands of people in Libya are now preparing to leave the war-ravaged and flood-hit country by boats completely unfit to cross the Mediterranean. But without rescue ships, the number of shipwrecks is likely to rise dramatically, the UN warns.

Aid groups say that nearly 700 people have ventured into the sea in the recent days, only 5 percent of whom were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to detention centers.

Forty percent arrived in Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast, and 11 percent in Italy. It is not yet known what happened to the others.

A study by the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), an Italian thinktank, based on interior ministry figures, revealed that one in eight people departing from Libya and in an attempt to reach the European shores between January and April had died en route.

“Obviously, migrants have no say in how or when to leave. The traffickers make that decision for them. They couldn’t care less if the people arrive dead or alive. In recent days, more and more vessels have been overflowing with people. Who will save them if they [become] shipwreck[ed]?” further said Sami.

Anti-refugee policies enforced by the Maltese and Italian governments have driven the sharp decrease in rescue missions.

Criminalized by authorities, deflagged, struck by seizures and judicial probes that have so far proved groundless, NGOs have been gradually forced to leave the central Mediterranean. Of the 10 NGO rescue ships that were actively present in the Mediterranean, only one – operated by the German organization SeaWatch – remains.

“Our airplanes have identified 20 dinghies carrying migrants in distress since 10 May. The situation is alarming. We sighted dinghies that waited hours and entire nights before being rescued. These are intolerable conditions. It is absurd that there is no aid in the world’s most militarized and travelled maritime area,” said Giorgia Linardi, the spokeswoman in Italy for SeaWatch.

Figures by the UN refugee agency show that there are around 60,000 asylum seekers in Libya. Over the past two months, 90,500 Libyans have been displaced by the violence in and around capital Tripoli. Aid groups report thousands of asylum seekers are behind bars in detention centers and subjected to abuse and torture.

Italy, under its hardline anti-immigration government, cut the number of arrivals dramatically last year to 23,371, about a fifth of the number who arrived in 2017 when 119,369 crossed from Libya.

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