The fate of 130 children aboard rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea should not be put at risk by political point-scoring, the UN said, amid ongoing uncertainty about whether the vessels will be allowed to dock in Italy.
The appeal by UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to European governments to prevent EU-bound migrants and refugees being stranded at sea, follows the signing of a second Italian decree banning humanitarian vessels from entering the country’s territorial waters.
Last week, Italian lawmakers agreed to impose fines of up to €1 million on vessels and organisations carrying out search and rescue operations, if they enter Italian territorial waters. Additionally vessels can be automatically impounded.
To date this year, around 4,000 people made the sea crossing to Europe via the so-called central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy – almost 80% less than in the first seven months of last year.
Last Sunday, more than 400 people were rescued off Libyan by the two boats at the centre of UNICEF’s appeal.
One, Open Arms, is reportedly moored close to the Italian island Lampedusa.
UNICEF said 11 of the 103 children aboard the second vessel, Viking Ocean, had a parent or guardian with them.
In a statement, UNICEF Special Co-ordinator for the Refugee and Migrant response in Europe, Afshan Khan, said many youngsters “fled poverty, conflict and unthinkable atrocities” and had the right to be safe.
Amid reports Spanish authorities agreed to shelter more than a dozen of those rescued, most from Sudan, Khan welcomed what she called “progress toward a plan for increased solidarity and responsibility sharing among European governments”.