Published: August 13, 2019
The UN’s refugee agency made an urgent appeal for 500 asylum seekers stuck on boats in the Mediterranean to be allowed to disembark, calling it a “race against time” as bad weather approaches.
The 507 migrants and refugees are stranded 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 UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean.
“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.”
NGO rescue vessels should be applauded for their work, not “stigmatised and criminalised,” the UNHCR said, adding 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, interior minister and leader of the hard-Right League party.
In a Facebook post, he said he was working to block the boats. "I will let you know how this ends. I will not give up," he wrote. source