Ten migrants were found dead —believed to have suffocated from fuel fumes—on the lower deck of a severely overcrowded wooden boat during a difficult rescue operation about 30 nautical miles from the Libyan coast in the Central Mediterranean Sea, said the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Wednesday. MSF’s team onboard the Geo Barents rescued 99 survivors from the boat on November 16th.
“It took us almost two hours to retrieve [the bodies] and to bring them on board, so [that] they can have a dignified burial [when they arrive] onshore,” said Fulvia Conte, MSF deputy search and rescue team leader on board the Geo Barents. “It [is] horrific and infuriating. This is another tragedy at sea that could have been avoided,”
“On a day like this, when we have to bring 10 dead bodies on board, we are once more witnessing Europe’s unwillingness to provide the much needed dedicated and proactive search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean,” said Caroline Willemen, MSF project coordinator onboard the Geo Barents. “People endure horrific human rights abuses in Libya and often their only escape is to flee and take an incredibly dangerous journey across the Central Mediterranean.”
Abdoulaye* was one of the last survivors to leave the wooden boat. “Let me see their bodies,” he said as soon as he boarded the Geo Barents. “These are my brothers, we come from the same place, we went through Libya together. I need to tell their families they are dead. Please let me see them.” His voice trembled and he was shaking.
In less than 24 hours, on November 15th and 16th, the MSF team performed three rescues in international waters in the Maltese and Libyan search and rescue zones, bringing 186 people safely onboard the Geo Barents. Among the survivors are 61 minors—the youngest only 10 months old. Those rescued come from a range of countries including Guinea, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Syria. Many of them have had horrific experiences in Libya, which is where their small wooden boat embarked.
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