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EU urged to improve migrant centers as 1,000 more rescued

June 23, 2015

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union must urgently improve overcrowded migrant reception centers in Italy and Greece, a leading humanitarian group said Tuesday as ships from Denmark and Norway plucked nearly 1,000 people from the Mediterranean Sea.

Conflict and poverty have driven more than 100,000 migrants to Europe so far this year, and almost 2,000 have died or gone missing on the perilous sea journey.

EU leaders will discuss an emergency plan to share thousands of new arrivals in Italy and Greece among the bloc’s 28 nations during a summit starting Thursday.

No agreement on the contentious plan is likely before July, and four European countries — Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland — said Tuesday that they find it unacceptable.

Doctors Without Borders migration expert Aurelie Ponthieu said the agency’s teams in the two countries are overwhelmed. More shelter, food, access to asylum information and help in identifying victims of abuse and torture are urgently needed, she said.

“The situation is already out of control in Greece and the Italian reception system is up to its limits,” she said. “EU member states have the resources, and they have the responsibilities.”

The call came as ships from Norway and Denmark signaled that they have picked up hundreds of migrants from small boats off the coast of Libya in the past 24 hours.

Svein Kvalavaag, the captain of the Norwegian Siem Pilot vessel, said Monday he picked up 671 migrants from two wooden boats north of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Later that night his ship took on 99 more migrants rescued by a Russian tanker.

Kvalavaag told the Norwegian industry site www.maritime.no that the 770 people included 140 women, three of whom were pregnant, and 45 children. They were all brought to the southern Italian island of Sicily.

Jesper Jensen, a spokesman for the Denmark-based Torm company, said its Singapore-flagged oil tanker Torm Arawa responded to a call Monday from the Italian coast guard that two boats carrying migrants were reported in distress off the coast off Libya. Jensen said Tuesday it picked up the 222 people, gave them food, water and blankets and brought them to a port in Italy’s southern region of Calabria.

Doctors Without Borders said its three-ship rescue operation has picked up around 4,500 people in the Mediterranean since the beginning of May.