[credit provider=”Guardian” url=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/08/nato-ship-libyan-migrants”]
Over 60 ship bound migrants were left to die after on the Mediterranean after NATO and European military units ignored their cries for help.According to the Guardian, the victims were aboard a ship carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children, and political refugees from Libya. The group left Tripoli March 25, for the Italian island of Lampedusa, but after 18 hours at sea encountered engine trouble and began losing fuel.
Using the ship’s satellite phone the migrants called an Eritrean priest in Rome who runs the refugee human rights organisation Habeshia, Father Moses Zerai. Zerai called the Italian coastguard and the boat’s location was determined to be about 60 miles off the coast of Tripoli. The coast guard assured Zerai that the alarm was officially raised and all relevant authorities were alerted.
Following this call, a military helicopter marked “army” hovered above the boat and uniformed men lowered water and biscuits to the migrants and gestured that they should hold their positions until help arrived.
16 fays later the boat washed up back in Libya with 11 passengers still alive, but two more died after being imprisoned bringing the survivors numbers down to nine.
According to one survivor:
At some point on 29 or 30 March the boat was carried near to a Nato aircraft carrier – so close that it would have been impossible to be missed. According to survivors, two jets took off from the ship and flew low over the boat while the migrants stood on deck holding the two starving babies aloft. But from that point on, no help was forthcoming. Unable to manoeuvre any closer to the aircraft carrier, the migrants’ boat drifted away. Shorn of supplies, fuel or means of contacting the outside world, they began succumbing one by one to thirst and starvation.
International maritime law requires all vessels to, including military, to answer distress calls and render aid.
The UN’s refugee agency issued this statement through the Guardian:
The Mediterranean cannot become the wild west,” said spokeswoman Laura Boldrini. “Those who do not rescue people at sea cannot remain unpunished.
The issue of Italian immigration remains a charged political debate in Italy, and on Sunday the pope asked more than 300,000 worshipers to welcome migrants to their shores.