AP PHOTOS: Migrants evade Libyan coast guard to reach Europe
From BRUNO THEVENIN and RENATA BRITO
TO OPEN WEAPONS (AP) – The February storm is relentless, rocking humanitarian rescuers’ ships as they try to revive a faulty engine and rescue African migrants sailing in the Mediterranean after fleeing Libya.
Not only do they have to deal with winds of 70 km / h and waves of 4 meters (13 feet), but they also have to win the race against the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and equipped by Europe to keep migrants off the coast. you are.
In recent days, Libyans have thwarted eight rescue attempts by Open Arms, a Spanish NGO ship harassing and threatening its crew in the international waters of the central Mediterranean, where 160 people have died so far this year.
The latest tragedy took place on February 20, when a 120-person dinghy began taking in water and waited for hours for a merchant ship in the area to come to the rescue. 41 people drowned, including three children and four women, the United Nations Migration Agency and the International Organization for Migration said.
Those rescued at sea are not necessarily safe. According to the IOM, from January 1 to February 22, nearly 3,600 people, including dozens of women and children, were intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya.
There they are housed in miserable detention centers and are subjected to ill-treatment, torture, extortion and rape.
About 2,530 people have reached Europe since leaving Libya so far this year.
Among them is 3-month-old Moses, whose chubby cheeks barely stood out from under the huge life jacket that rescuers had tied to him as they transferred the baby and his mother from Cameroon to safety on board the lifeboat Open Arms.
A day later, rescuers snatched 5-year-old Timmy from a dinghy under the frightening gaze of the Libyan Coast Guard a few yards away. She and her mother set out on a risky journey to Europe through the Libyan desert six months ago to escape female genital mutilation in their native Côte d’Ivoire, where the practice affects 55% of young girls, according to UNICEF.
Despite the nausea and vomiting caused by the stormy sea, the prospects for a safer future in Europe, along with warm blankets, helped Timmy fall asleep on the crowded deck of the Open Open.
It will take another three days of tumultuous navigation of the 146 people rescued by the group during the 80th mission in the central Mediterranean to reach a safe port in Sicily.
But before they can even begin the challenging process of starting a new life on European soil, they must board another ship and undergo a 14-day quarantine, a precautionary measure imposed by the Italian government to limit the spread of COVID-19. time of pandemic. Until then, they can still only dream of a better life.
___ Renata Brito reports from Barcelona, Spain.
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