3 million people died since the Omicron variant emerged, shattering perceptions that the pandemic is over.
Open Arms, the humanitarian boat owned by the charity of the same name, has left the port of Burriana, Spain, and is currently in the central Mediterranean. On board are a 20-strong crew, among them a doctor, nurse and cultural mediator from EMERGENCY.
EMERGENCY and Open Arms are pooling their strengths once more and returning to the deadliest border on earth to rescue men, women and children risking their lives to flee from war and violence. This comes one year after Mission 65, when 107 people were rescued from the sea and kept on board Open Arms off the coast of Lampedusa for more than 20 days; eventually leading to an investigation into whether the then Ministry of the Interior was guilty of kidnap.
“After many months in the shipyard we’re getting back to work. Our boat needed complete renovation and Covid-19 made it even more essential to redesign the areas inside the ship. We did so with respect for all the necessary protocols, so we could head back out to sea in absolute safety. Over the last few months, the Mediterranean has seen boats wrecked, people pushed back and rescue prevented. So, we’re heading back out to sea in the knowledge that we’re needed there now more than ever, to save lives, of course, but also to denounce European governments for continuously riding roughshod over human rights,” explains Riccardo Gatti, president of Open Arms Italia and head of the mission.
The Open Arms team will deal with organising the mission and rescue operations, while EMERGENCY will handle medical aid on board. The ship will follow medical protocols informed by the infection prevention procedures that EMERGENCY has been utilising in its projects around the world throughout recent months. These include measures to manage flows of people, as well as look out for and report any suspected cases among survivors who are rescued. The crew will also be given swab tests before they set off and once they come back into port, so that any positive cases can be identified immediately.
“Since the start of the year, 511 people, more than two every day, have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, turning the waters into a graveyard. Europe whitewashes the fact it is pushing them back illegally, with the help of the Libyan coastguard, which since 2017 has brought about 40,000 people back to a war-torn country where human rights are systematically and constantly violated. There are no other shared search and rescue missions and, under the pretext of Covid-19, governments are setting up further hurdles to charitable organisations working at sea, camouflaging their decisions as policies to protect public health. But for us at EMERGENCY, who have been treating war victims since 1994 and know the countries these people are escaping from and through very well, the moral imperative is without doubt to rescue people fleeing and searching for safety at Europe’s door. We think human lives should be saved even during this pandemic and that it can be done in safety. So, bolstered by our years of experience managing epidemics, we will be taking all the necessary measures on Open Arms to minimise the risk of contagion and protect our crew and people we rescue,” says Rossella Miccio, president of EMERGENCY.
The mission will adhere strictly to the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Geneva Convention.
EMERGENCY is an independent, neutral organisation, founded in 1994 to offer free, high-quality medical and surgical treatment to victims of war, landmines and poverty. Since then EMERGENCY has treated over 10 million people, or one every minute. EMERGENCY promotes a culture of peace, solidarity and respect for human rights.
Open Arms is a non-governmental organisation that fights for human rights at sea. It began its rescue missions in September 2015 off Lesbos, in Greece, where it saved a thousand people in the Aegean Sea. In winter 2016 it extended its missions to the central Mediterranean, where in four months it saved 15,000 lives on board the ship Astral. Since it began its missions in this part of the Mediterranean, it has saved 26,500 people, 5,000 of them on board Open Arms. All thanks to charitable support.