The French medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which is known by its French acronym as MSF, has lambasted Italy for the “politically-motivated” seizure of the MSF vessel that rescued hundreds of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean last month.
On Friday, a research ship named “Geo Barents,” which belongs to Medecins Sans Frontieres, was detained by Italian coastguards in Augusta, Sicily, during an inspection that found 22 deficiencies, the French charity said in a statement on Monday.
The MSF added that, while it is willing to comply with authorities' requirements, such inspections “represent an opportunity for authorities to pursue political objectives under the guise of administrative procedures.”
It added that since 2019, Italian authorities had seized NGO vessels on 13 occasions, four of which were currently detained, “leaving almost no lifesaving activities in the central Mediterranean Sea.”
An unnamed MSF spokesman told Reuters that the said vessel had rescued more than 400 people, including dozens of unaccompanied children, from rubber and wooden and fiberglass boats in back-to-back operations during last month.
He added that many of the rescued people from countries experiencing conflict, including Syria, Ethiopia and Mali.
Every year, thousands of migrants embark on the perilous journey of crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, often departing in small, inflatable boats from Libya with hopes of reaching Europe, more specifically, Germany, their ideal destination.
The ideal point of entry in Europe for most of these illegal immigrants is Italy, but the stretch of water between Sicily and North Africa is one of the world's deadliest migration routes.
According to figures by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), 866 migrant deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year. Most of them, 723, lost their lives on the central Mediterranean route where the MSF vessel was operating.
The UN said in a report in May that the member states of the European Union (EU) were, to some extent, to blame for migrant deaths due to various factors, including obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts.
According to the report, the European bloc not only halted its own official search and rescue operations but governments have prevented humanitarian agencies from rescuing migrants in distress by detaining their vessels and targeting individuals with administrative and criminal proceedings.
The IOM said in May that almost 530,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the start of 2015, including some 6,000 in the year to date.