“Fortress Europe”: migrants stranded after Banksy ship rescue

Sea-Watch, an NGO that conducts search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, now carries the people rescued by the Louise Michel. Source: Hol and (via Wikimedia Commons)
Hundreds of refugees and migrants are stranded at sea after being rescued by a rescue vessel funded by the artist Banksy.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

Hundreds of refugees and migrants have been rescued from a crowded rubber boat by the Louise Michel – a rescue vessel funded by the artist Banksy.

The boat at one point had over 200 people on board, far beyond its capacity.

The Italian coastguard took 49 of the most vulnerable people on board to safety, as well as the body of one member of the group, who had died before the Louise Michel reached them.

The Louise Michel said:

“Our new friends told us they lost 3 friends on their journey already. Including the dead body in our one life raft, that makes 4 lives vanished because of Fortress Europe”.

Another vessel, the Sea Watch 4, later took the Louise Michel’s remaining passengers on board, being a ship with more room for the refugees and migrants. Sea Watch 4 now reportedly has about 350 people in its care. The Louise Michel said the work was not over and demanded a safe place for all the survivors to be taken onto dry land.

An oil tanker named the Maersk Etienne is also carrying 27 passengers rescued from an unseaworthy boat. It brought them on board in early August but is still waiting to be allowed to disembark the passengers.

The Maersk Etienne said it was asked to rescue the 27 individuals by Maltese authorities, but has not been allowed to bring them ashore. The Maltese government responded that they were rescued outside Maltese waters and that the tanker had not been asked to sail to Malta.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHRC condemned the circumstances, stating:

“With relatively fewer NGO vessels compared to previous years, the gap is being increasingly filled by commercial vessels. It is vital that they are being permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end.”

The agency stressed the need for ‘meaningful solidarity’, including states taking actions such as pledging places for migrants and refugees, accelerating their processing, and enabling swift returns for those that aren’t in need of protection or might want to go back to their countries of origin. 

In the years since 2015, a number of political organisations across Europe have found success rallying against immigration and the acceptance of refugees. Separate from a genuine debate, some have represented events inaccurately with the aim of gaining influence. 

The UNHCR wrote:

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalised or stigmatised, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts.”

Hundreds of people are still without a country to call home, drifting outside Europe’s borders. Over 443 people have died or gone missing attempting to travel from north Africa to Europe in the year 2020, according to UN data.


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