ROME – The 134 migrants on board the Spanish NGO rescue vessel Open Arms are becoming increasingly agitated and hard to control after days at sea due to a disembarkation blockade from Italy.
The vessel, currently in Italian waters although without a permit to dock, began its operations in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 1 and has not made land since.
“It’s very difficult to keep the situation under control. The people who are inside have seen some others be evacuated, but them no, and this is generating a lot of agitation. Furthermore, they’re scared that they won’t be taken in and instead deported to Libya,” Veronica Alfonsi, the spokesperson for Open Arms, told EFE.
She highlighted the fact that some on board had been waiting for a solution for 15 days.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, has not granted Open Arms permission to dock in Italian territory even though six European Union member states, Spain, France, Romania, Portugal, Germany and Luxembourg, have said they would distribute the migrants between them.
The European Commission said the situation of the migrants was being prolonged by the lack of agreement on where the vessel should be able to land.
Earlier in the week, Salvini suggested Open Arms should head to Spain, but the NGO’s founder, Oscar Camps, dismissed this idea, saying it would put too much pressure on the migrants on board.
A total of eight people were evacuated from the boat on Thursday, five of them for psychological reasons.
“The situation where persons are stranded at sea for days and weeks on end is untenable,” said Vanessa Mock, a spokesperson for the European Commission.
She said the process of distributing the migrants between EU member states was not possible until a disembarkation point was chosen.
Open Arms now finds itself in Italian waters just off the coast of the islands of Lampedusa. It spent around two weeks in international waters until Salvini permitted it to enter Italian territory.
The firebrand anti-immigration minister has accused NGO boats of aiding illegal immigration and has threatened to impose fines and seize boats that enter Italian waters without permission.
Last month, Carola Rackete, the captain of German NGO rescue vessel Sea-Watch, was detained when she landed her vessel in Lampedusa without permission having spent weeks at sea.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the Ocean Viking, which is operated jointly by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, has 356 people on board.
The NGOs operate in the Med given the lack of EU rescue vessel presence, partly due to pressure from the Italian government.