By Mario Ritter
23 January, 2019

The human rights group Amnesty International has criticized several European countries for blocking migrant rescue ships from their ports.

Amnesty International called the situation "shameful."

The group said Europe's migrant policy was putting lives in danger at sea and also in the country of Libya.

Most asylum seekers leaving Africa appear to be leaving from Libya.

The rights group made its statement after a migrant rescue ship was permitted to unload people in Malta after spending 19 days at sea. Almost 50 migrants were on the ship. Several European ports had refused it entry.

The Sea-Watch rescue ship waits off the coast of Malta, Jan. 8, 2018.
The Sea-Watch rescue ship waits off the coast of Malta, Jan. 8, 2018.

Matteo De Bellis of Amnesty International said the problem is the result of Europe's decision to let Libya deal with border security.

De Bellis said that non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are operating the rescue ships. But they face hard choices.

He said, "The only thing that the Libyan coast guard can tell the NGOs is to go back to Libya and disembark people there. But it is forbidden by international law to disembark people in a place where they are going to be exposed to torture."

Many European countries have ended their rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea. Now aid groups have stepped in.

Many southern European countries say it is unfair that, under EU law, they must take in the refugees.

De Bellis said, "There is no mechanism enabling European government, European states, to share responsibility among them for the assistance of those asylum seekers."

Spain recently blocked the ‘Proactive Open Arms' rescue ship from leaving port. Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini praised the action.

Salvini said, "If the European Union and the other European countries will follow up words with actions, Europe will be rescued. But if words will not be followed by actions, Europe doesn't exist."

The EU has said the flow of migrants to European countries has fallen by 92 percent from its highest levels in 2015.

Amnesty International said this means that concerns about migration causing problems in Europe are false.

De Bellis said there are constituencies that believe Europe is "under siege" from migration.

Several EU member states now have anti-immigration governments making it unlikely that the EU will agree on refugee limits any time soon.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Henry Ridgwell reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

disembark –v. to leave a ship or airplane

forbidden –adj. not permitted

mechanism –n. a process or system used to produce a particular result

enable –v. to make something possible

constituency –n. a group of people who live an vote in an area