'Race against time': UN refugee body says Mediterranean migrants should be allowed ashore to ... - The Libyan Report

'Race against time': UN refugee body says Mediterranean migrants should be allowed ashore to ...

The UN’s refugee agency has appealed for 500 asylum seekers stuck on boats in the Mediterranean to be allowed to disembark in a “race against time” as bad weather approaches.

There are 507 people on two NGO rescue vessels, which picked them up off the coast of Libya in recent days.

“It is a race against time,” said Vincent Cochetel, the The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said yesterday.

“Storms are expected, and conditions will only get worse. To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather will only inflict more suffering.”

The UNHCR said that many of the migrants have suffered “terrible abuses” in Libya.

But the agency got short shrift from Italy, where ports have been closed to rescue vessels since last summer, in a policy forged by Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the hard-Right League party, who said he was working to block the boats.

Around 350 of the migrants are on the Ocean Viking, a Norwegian-flagged rescue ship operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, with the rest on the Open Arms, a Spanish rescue ship.

Salvini and the populist Italian government have repeatedly suggested that Tunisian ports should be considered safe, questioning why migrants should be brought to Europe.

So far this year, around 600 migrants have died trying to reach Europe from North Africa by sea.

Salvini has drastically reduced the number of migrants reaching Italy by sea — just 4,265 have arrived so far this year, down nearly 80 per cent on the same period last year.

His mantra that “the good times are over” for illegal migration has gone down well with millions of Italians, with the League polling at around 38 per cent as Italy looks set to face new elections after Salvini pulled the plug on the 14-month coalition with the Five Star Movement. source