A humanitarian ship, run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, rescued 141 migrants packed onto wooden boats off the coast of Libya on Friday in its first mission since it was caught in a standoff with Italy and Malta over their refusal to let rescued migrants ashore.
When Italy turned the Aquarius away in June, and Malta followed suit, the ship spent a grueling nine days at sea before eventually disembarking the migrants in Spain.
Italy’s new government, which took power in June, refuses to take in migrants rescued by humanitarian ships, accusing them of acting as a “taxi service” in a bid to get EU partners to shoulder more of the burden of migrant arrivals.
“In its callous refusal to allow refugees and migrants to disembark in its ports, Italy is using human lives as bargaining chips,” Amnesty International‘s Matteo de Bellis said on Wednesday, condemning EU policies for the central Mediterranean.
Due to pressure from Italy and Malta, most charity ships are no longer patrolling off the coast of Libya. Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.