Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday that 47 migrants kept at sea for over a week as Europe squabbled over their fate will disembark “in the coming hours” after a half-dozen countries came forward to take them in.
Conte said Luxembourg had joined Germany, France, Portugal, Romania and Malta in agreeing to take some migrants from the Sea-Watch 3 ship operated by a German aid group.
The migrants were rescued Jan. 19 off the coast of Libya and have been off Sicily since Friday, drawing the ire of the U.N. and sparking an emergency appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Italy’s populist government has refused to allow humanitarian ships to dock in a bid to dissuade them from conducting rescues and to force other countries to share the burden.
In Brussels, the U.N.’s top refugee official criticized European governments for competing in a race to the bottom to avoid taking in “a few miserable people.”
“It’s a race between countries not to take people. So it’s a negative race. It’s an anti-solidarity race that the governments for political reasons are performing,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters.
Grandi said six people died on average every day trying to cross the Mediterranean last year and that the death rate in the perilous sea crossings is on the rise.
He said the fact that “this continent with all its power, money, technology, means, allows people to die in the Mediterranean at the rate of six per day is quite dramatic.”
Grandi said more ships are needed in search and rescue areas. The number of NGO boats operating has dropped from 10 to two, he said, as EU governments try to hinder their operations.
EU countries and institutions claim NGO boats are a “pull factor” that encourages people to try to cross the sea in search of sanctuary and better lives in Europe in the knowledge that they might be saved if their often-unseaworthy boats sink.
A new report from the U.N. refugee agency said that while the number of people make sea crossings has dropped, the death rate doubled over a year.
Migrants are increasingly trying to enter Europe from Morocco via Spain and the report said the death toll in that area almost quadrupled from 202 in 2017 to 777 last year.