Pressure grew on the Norwegian government coalition Sunday to finally send vessels to aid refugee rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, after news broke that as many as 700 refugees may have drowned while trying to flee to Europe. “How many must drown before we make a decision?” Tuva Raanes Bogsnes of the refugee aid organization Flyktninghjelpen told state broadcaster NRK.
“If it’s true that 700 people were on board the boat that capsized Sunday, and that only 30 were rescued, it’s the worst catastrophe so far this year,” Bogsnes told NRK. She was highly critical of the Norwegian government’s failure to contribute the country’s maritime competence to rescue efforts.
Government ‘still evaluating’
Officials in Italy and Malta desperately need help to handle the waves of refugees trying to escape war and chaos in Libya, other African nations and Syria. Italy’s government asked Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg for help months ago, but Norway refused to send the frigate Fridtjof Nansen to the Mediterranean and still hasn’t decided on any other vessel suitable for rescue efforts.
“All boats are welcome … big boats, little boats … there’s not that much to evaluate,” Bogsnes insisted. Other humanitarian organizations and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association have also pleaded for help but Norway hasn’t responded. Jøran Kallmyr, a state secretary from the Progress Party in the Justice Ministry, repeated that the frigate wasn’t suitable for a refugee rescue operation and that the government was still evaluating alternatives.
“We support Triton (the EU’s fledgling patrol and rescue operation in the Mediterranean) financially and with personnel, and are evaluating vessels,” Kallmyr told NRK. “But the ship must fulfill several demands and functions.”
More ships ‘won’t solve the problem’
He also claimed that sending more ships to the Mediterranean won’t solve the refugee problem. “There will be refugees who perish regardless how many ships we send,” he said.
Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of Norway’s largest party in opposition, the Labour Party, claimed Norway’s government “has been too passive” in responding to the boat refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. “We must report for duty to Italy, and ask how our maritime competence can be used.”