The 353 survivors onboard the search and rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 have finally been allowed to disembark in Palermo. 27 people rescued on 5 August remain stranded at sea off Malta with supplies running out. An increase of arrivals leaves the hotspot in Lampedusa overcrowded, at six times its maximum hosting capacity.

11 days after the first people onboard the Sea-Watch 4 were rescued, all 353 survivors on the vessel jointly operated by United4Rescue, Sea-Watch, and Doctors without Borders, disembarked in Palermo on 2 September. The group included 150 people transferred from the rescue vessel Louise Michel funded by the British street artist Banksy. After carrying out several rescue missions Louise Michel had 219 survivors and ten crew members onboard with another 33 survivors attached on a life raft and sent out distress calls as the vessel was unable to move due to the weight. 49 particularly vulnerable people were picked up by the Italian coast guard while Sea-Watch 4 recovered the remaining 150 people. In an interview with the Civil Fleet Neeske Beckmann, tactical coordinator for the search plane Moonbird operated by Sea Watch, describes the lack of assistance from Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) and the slow and reluctant assistance from the Italian coast guard calling the situation “outrageous” and stating: “Conveniently for the EU, they don’t have to shoot people. They only have to wait and not act and let the sea do the dirty work for them”.

Maersk Tanker, the owner of the container ship Etienne that holds 27 survivors, warns that supplies are running out. The people onboard, including a pregnant woman and a minor have been stranded at sea off Malta for almost one month since their rescue on 5 August as Maltese authorities refuse them disembarkation, reportedly to seek a European solution.  The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR as well as the European Commission have urged Maltese authorities to allow disembarkation.

Four people died and several were injured when a vessel carrying 20 people caught fire during a rescue operation. Finance police were towing the boat when the accident happened and reportedly two officers got injured when attempting to steer the boat to safety. The hotline Alarm Phone reported on 3 September that 90 people, including women and children were in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, a few miles south of the Italian island Lampedusa where they later arrived safely.

Following an increase of arrivals with more than 900 people arriving on 29 and 30 August authorities on Lampedusa are calling for help. Lampedusa now hosts around 1,160 migrants, six times the amount of its maximum capacity with the hotspots reportedly at the brink of collapse. According to the New Humanitarian 28 people rescued at sea have tested positive for COVID-19 and the lack of space in reception centres have resulted in viral outbreaks providing: “fodder for right-wing political figures – such as former interior minister Matteo Salvini – who have used the pandemic since it began in March to advance a long-standing anti-migrant agenda”.

According to International Organization for Migration (IOM) Libya 408 people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya between August 24 and 31 August. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR estimates that 443 people have died or gone missing at the Mediterranean in 2020 as of August 31.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.