MADRID – Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem called on Monday on Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez to end a political stand-off that has left Spanish NGO rescue boat stuck at sea with some 150 migrants on board.
In a video shared on Twitter, Bardem, 50, asked Sanchez to take on a leadership role within the European Union for the distribution of the migrants Open Arms has rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
He said: “I’m sending this video to unite my voice with all those people who are publicly demanding of our acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, along with Spain, which is where the NGO Open Arms and its workers, who risk their lives to save those of others, are from, to lead a distribution process for all the people on the boat and all the countries in the EU.”
“We think that Spain is the ideal and right country to do so since it’s the country of origin of the NGO Open Arms, which is doing a necessary and extraordinary job for human dignity and to save the lives of people who are fleeing from situations that we can’t even begin to imagine.”
Open Arms is currently located in international waters around 50 kilometers (29 miles) off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, a firebrand known for his far-right policies, has banned NGO boats from disembarking in Italian territory.
The NGO’s mission chief, Anabel Montes, told Efe on Monday that eight of the 159 migrants on board had been successfully evacuated to nearby Malta, two of them were suffering health problems, the rest were family members who did not want to be separated.
The 151 migrants who remain on the vessel in cramped conditions were rescued in three separate operations in the Mediterranean Sea, most off the coast of Libya, a country gripped by civil war.
They applauded when the Maltese vessel headed away from Open Arms with the evacuees.
“In terms of physical condition, the situation is much more than just tiredness, they’re exhausted,” Montes said.
Montes said that the psychological condition of the migrants on board must also be taken into consideration, given that many have suffered hardship on their journey towards Europe and had been the victim of torture and violence in Libya.
“The psychological situation hangs in the balance,” she said, warning that the risk of altercations on the boat increases the longer they remain adrift.
Open Arms has been at sea since a rescue mission on August 1.
Bardem was not the first celebrity to become involved with Open Arms.
On Friday, Richard Gere visited the vessel with supplies.
Salvini, who leads the League party, has consistently campaigned to keep ports closed to NGOs, which he accuses of boosting irregular migration and has insisted that he will not allow the Open Arms vessel to enter Italian waters.
Another NGO rescue vessel, the Ocean Viking, managed jointly by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, is also active in the Mediterranean Sea. It currently has 251 migrants on board, 81 of those rescued on Sunday evening off the Libyan coast.
Numerous migrants have said they were tortured during their time held in migrant detention centers in the North African nation.
One of the doctors on the Ocean Viking said: “People described to me being tortured by electric shock, of being beaten with guns and sticks, and burned with melted plastic. They described how they still feel pain from their wounds and scars sustained during their time in Libya.”
The migrant crisis has become a heated topic of debate in the EU. Countries like Italy have refused to cooperate with the distribution quotas mandated by the bloc.
While the EU operates a helicopter surveillance system, it currently does not have any active rescue boats in the Med, which has become one of the principal migrant routes from Africa to Europe.
Therefore, much of the work is being conducted by NGO vessels instead. But they now face potential legal action from Italian authorities if they head to port without permission.