By Susy Hodges
The two UN agencies said they were deeply concerned about the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean.
Italy’s coastguard on Saturday evacuated 49 people from an overloaded rescue vessel named Louise Michel that is funded by the British artist Banksy. Those evacuated included 32 women and 13 children.
The crew of Louise Michel had earlier issued a series of tweets calling for immediate assistance from the authorities in Italy, Malta and Germany. They said they were stranded and overloaded with 219 migrants picked up off the coast of Libya over the previous 2 days.
One tweet said the boat was unable to move due to her overcrowded deck and were also carrying the body of a migrant who had died earlier.
The crew accused the European authorities of not responding adequately to their appeals for help.
Shortly after the evacuation of the most vulnerable migrants, another rescue boat, Sea Watch 4, took the remainder of the Louise Michel’s 150 migrants on board. It said it was now carrying a total of 350 people who needed to disembark as soon as possible.
A third boat also needs assistance. A group of 27 migrants and refugees, including a pregnant woman and children from Libya, have been aboard the commercial tanker Maersk Etienne since their rescue on August the 5th.
The two UN agencies said the lack of a deal on a regional landing system could not be an excuse to deny vulnerable people safe harbour and stressed the humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized.
The Louise Michel rescue boat funded by Banksy only started operating last week in the Mediterranean. The artist posted a video on his official Instagram page saying he had bought the Louise Michel because, he claimed, the EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans.
Italy is the destination of most migrants who embark on the often dangerous journey of crossing the Mediterranean from the coast of Libya in recent years.
According to UN data, 443 people have died or have gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2020. In a speech to the European parliament in 2014, Pope Francis urged leaders not to allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery for those migrants risking their lives trying to reach the continent.