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Non-Governmental Groups Pick Up Migrants Off The African Coast


How can refugees on the Mediterranean Sea make it out of the water? People move from North Africa toward Italy. Some are turned back, ending up in detention in Libya. Some are now turned away when they reach Italy. A rescue ship for migrants was turned away from Italy over the weekend and tried for the island of Malta instead. Here is how people onboard responded when they heard the Maltese would take them in.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).


INSKEEP: You can hear the relief. The NGO's Sea-Eye ran that rescue ship, and its spokesperson is Carlotta Weibl, who's on the line.

Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Were these people that your group had plucked off of the small boats that had been coming in such numbers across the Mediterranean?

WEIBL: Yes, exactly. That's them.

INSKEEP: And so you brought them to Italy. Italy said no, not going to take them. You took them to Malta. The Maltese came out on boats and took them off your ship. What happens to them now that they're in Malta?

WEIBL: They will be transferred to different EU member states. There are several states which agreed to accept them, among them Germany, and they will be relocated there hopefully very soon.

INSKEEP: But we're talking here about 65 people. So a happy ending of sorts or at least some relief for 65 people. How many thousands of people are you thinking you need to be dealing with in this particular summer?

WEIBL: We don't know yet, but we obviously see in the coming - or in the past days that there are many, many cases. Just on Sunday night, we went out again after we transferred those 65 people, and last night we rescued another 44. So it keeps on going. As soon as we are in the search and rescue zone, we have a case. So that shows that there are many more people on the risk of drowning.

INSKEEP: Has Italy, which is the nearest European country often for people leaving Libya - has Italy become less and less receptive over time?

WEIBL: Yes, definitely. Since Salvini the interior minister, took power last June, his first act was that he declared all the ports closed. And since then, basically, the civil NGO, the civil SCI (ph) NGOs are not allowed to bring people there anymore.

INSKEEP: What are the implications of that?

WEIBL: Well, it leads to us then basically laying for days or up to weeks in front of the coast of Lampedusa or - yeah, usually Lampedusa, with very harsh conditions for the people onboard. And at the same time, this time we are laying off Lampedusa, we are missing in the search and rescue zones, where obviously more people would need our help. So we can't be present there because we have to wait for these political games to be decided.

INSKEEP: Well, we should note, I guess, from the Italian government's point of view, it's not a game; it's important to them. But you're saying the practical effect is refugees have nowhere to go. Is this policy getting people killed?

WEIBL: Definitely, it is. And, I mean, we don't only blame the Italian government; it is a shared responsibility of the EU, or at least it should be. And that's - the other EU member states left Italy quite alone in the past year - I think left to the policy (ph) we have now in Italy.

INSKEEP: Is this a legal responsibility that Italy has that it's ignoring?

WEIBL: It is a little bit of a gray zone because the law says that you have to rescue people, and they have to be brought to the safest close port, but it does not say that the close port has also to allow you to enter.

INSKEEP: Oh, wow. OK.

Carlotta Weibl of Sea-Eye, thanks so much - really appreciate it.

WEIBL: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "OOBLECK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.