Pro-mass migration civil society groups have confirmed that the Aquarius ship has resumed picking up migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, but has not yet attempted to disembark the illegals on European soil.
The ship, operated by the Franco-German SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF), had picked up 141 migrants in boats in international waters off the coast of Libya on Friday in its first mission since early June after it was denied docking by Malta and Italy, reports Reuters.
The migrant transport vessel had attempted to dock in both countries on the 9th and 10th of June, carrying some 630 migrants, before being invited by Spain’s socialist government to disembark on the 17th.
This represents the NGO ship’s tenth mission in the Mediterranean this year after the two-month hiatus.
The Aquarius picked up the first group of 25 migrants on Friday 25 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, north of Zouara, and then picked up a further 116 off of a second boat north of Abu Kammash.
The ship has not yet attempted to disembark on European soil, the vessel’s log noting on Friday that the “Aquarius is now waiting for instructions from the Libyan (rescue coordination centre)”; however, the crew said before the mission that they would not be returning migrants to the North African country. The migrants mostly originated from Eritrea and Somalia.
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On Saturday, the Aquarius “remains in the search and rescue zone, and on the lookout for any other craft in distress”, according to AFP, with vessel crew member ‘Basile’ tweeting that as of the late afternoon, the vessel was still patrolling “international waters” looking for migrant boats.
“We are currently the only NGO vessel in the area. We’re very concerned there might be other boats and nobody able to reach them.”
Departures from Libya have fallen dramatically since Italy took a hard line against accepting NGO vessels. The majority of Italians backed interior minister Matteo Salvini’s move to ban migrant ships, with the leader of the League saying he would not allow Italy to become a “giant refugee camp”.
Ships running ‘Search and Rescue’ (SAR) operations in the area have been criticised as operating a “taxi service”, ferrying migrants from just off of Libyan waters to mainland Europe.
Others have criticised NGOs for acting as a “pull factor“, encouraging people smugglers and migrants to make the dangerous journey as they are aware that ‘rescue’ ships will be waiting in international waters to pick them up.
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Last year, NGO vessel Sea-Watch clashed with the Libyan coastguard after the migrant transport vessel claimed the coastguard had attempted to interfere with its SAR missions while the Libyans alleged the NGO had been operating in the country’s sovereign waters and not in international waters.
Later that summer, Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms claimed the Libyan coastguard had fired warning shots near one of their rescue vessels, the Golfo Azzurro.
Spain has become the new focus of mass, illegal migration from Africa after the anti-establishment coalition of the Five Star and League formed a government in Italy and promised to cut illegal migration, with the number of sea arrivals to Italy dropping by 80 percent whilst rising by 250 percent in Spain.
Spanish police sources have indicated that at least 50,000 sub-Saharan Africans are in Morocco waiting to head to Spain, which, under its new socialist government, has turned to an open borders immigration policy, with the country’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell claiming that Europe needs “new blood”.
“Europe’s demographic evolution shows that unless we want to gradually turn into an ageing continent, we need new blood, and it doesn’t look like this new blood is coming from our capacity to procreate,” Borrell said.