Watch 'Human Cargo' on SBS OnDemand
The non-government agencies running the Mediterranean rescue ship Ocean Viking are calling on the European Union to speed up assistance processes after waiting 11 days to secure a spot to disembark 104 migrants.
Two pregnant women, two children, and 30 unaccompanied minors were among those on board the ship operated by French association SOS Mediterranean and Doctors without Borders (MSF).
“Unaccompanied minors are unusually 15 to 17,” Jay Berger, MSF’s project coordinator aboard the Ocean Viking, told Dateline.
“They have been pushed out on their own, often trying to make the best for their family. They really have no idea what they have got themselves into, crossing the desert, reaching Libya and then going out to sea.”
Most of the migrants were from West Africa, while 12 men were from Bangladesh.
After receiving the initial request for a safe disembarkation spot, European authorities deliberated for 11 days on where the migrants would disembark and who would take them.
Italy announced this week it would allow MSF and SOS Mediterranee to dock, with France and Germany agreeing to take in 70 of the migrants.
Italy’s compliance comes despite the country banning all non-government rescue vessels from the Mediterranean this year. MSF and SOS Mediterranee are continuing rescue voyages despite the ban.
League leader Matteo Salvini, who was Italy’s interior minister for 14 months up until August, denounced Tuesday’s decision to let the Ocean Viking come to port.
“Once again the Italian government has dropped its trousers. Once again it is doing a favour to an NGO ... which encourages human traffickers to ply their trade,” he said.
Many migrants attempting to reach Europe from Libya are fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Six people will drown trying to reach Europe every day, according to the United Nations Human High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr Berger said migrants aboard the vessel spoke of their terrible treatment in Libya, including accounts of torture. Libyan authorities said they assigned the port of Tripoli as a safe disembarkation site for the migrants, MSF refute the claim the port is safe.
“Libya never responds to our calls for help in their so-called search and rescue area, so we don’t know of any more distress cases,” he said.
“We don’t know how many boats are out there being lost.”
Mr Berger said an 11 day delay was unacceptable and the uncertainty of when and where migrants will go is distressing.
“We try and explain [to the migrants] the political situation that this has caused and how big of an issue this is in Europe. They might understand, they might now don’t,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Ocean Viking waited for 13 days with 356 migrants on board. Malta finally accepted the migrants.
“The not knowing is the worst part. This cycle of not knowing, each time, is unacceptable. It’s the hardest part to deal with,” Mr Berger said.
“The important thing for us is that people are dying at sea.”