The Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms said it will deploy its rescue vessel to work alongside Spain’s maritime rescue services in the Strait of Gibraltar, where the number of people trying to cross from Africa to Europe has surged in recent months.
The charity’s vessel Open Arms recently docked in Campamento after rescuing in a group of migrants in the central Mediterranean as they tried to cross from Libya to Italy.
But with both Malta and Italy closing ports to NGO rescue vessels, and with migratory routes shifting further west to Morocco, the group has decided to re-task its vessel to this region.
“Proactive Open Arms will soon join rescue operations in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran basin under the coordination of [Spanish maritime rescue service] Salvamento Maritimo,” Open Arms said in a statement.
The group also bemoaned the “intense campaigns to criminalise” the work of NGOs in the Mediterranean, as well as the “inhumane policies” that have led to ports in Italy and Malta turning away migrant vessels over.
Groups such as Open Arms have been criticised for playing into the hands of trafficking gangs who send people out to sea in small boats in the belief they will be picked up by rescue boats.
But the NGOs reject this and insist their mission is a humanitarian one that cannot be ignored.
“We remain loyal to our commitment and firm in our work to avoid more deaths at sea,” Open Arms said, adding that its volunteers will go “where we are needed”.
The Barcelona-based group was set up by volunteers who travelled to Lesbos in 2015 to help assist thousands of refugees fleeing war in Syria.
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