Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the cooler winter months, migrants are still making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from northern Africa to Europe as rescue charity Open Arms also continues to scour the sea.
For several days last week, Euronews joined the Spanish-led team as they helped rescue those making the crossing, all the while being watched closely by Libyan patrol boats, something that came close to intimidation at times.
Watch Pablo Ramiro’s exclusive report for Euronews in the video player above.
On Friday afternoon, Libyan coastguards ordered Open Arms leave what it claimed was Libyan waters – but the rescue ship’s crew told our correspondent that the waters were, in fact, Maltese.
More than 1,200 migrants and asylum seekers died while crossing the Mediterranean in 2020, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Thousands more, meanwhile, have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya, with the support of Italy and the EU.
Later on Friday, as dusk approached, the Open Arms team spotted a rickety boat with 40 people, including a woman with her three-month-old baby, along with three unaccompanied minors.
A rescue operation ensued, continuing after dark until all 40 of the migrants were transferred to the ship. There, they explained they had been sailing for 24 hours in their wooden boat, having originally travelled from numerous countries including Sudan, Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria and Morocco.
But this is not the end of their ordeal: the crew will now need to wait for Malta to give the green light for Open Arms to dock at one of its ports.
In the past, rescue ships have spent many days at sea in limbo, waiting for Malta, Italy or any other EU state to accept them.
Unlike with the Spanish charity, migrants have rarely been welcomed with open arms in the EU, even despite many being refugees who have fled wars and have horrific stories to tell.