Dec 14, 2018

Doctors Without Borders chief: "Saving lives has become illegal"

Aquarius docked in Marseille. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

Medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym MSF) was forced last Thursday to shut down its search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean on board the vessel Aquarius, blaming a "dishonest smearing and obstructive campaign."

Why it matters: MSF International President Joanne Liu tells Al Jazeera in an interview: "We just can't understand why saving lives has become illegal." She added that MSF is examining whether there's any possibility of resuming operations in the future.

How difficult was it to continue operations in recent months and what forced you to stop them?

Liu: "The last few months, rescuing people in the Mediterranean was made more and more difficult for us. We were regularly blocked and impeded in trying to save lives. We tried to get a flag for several weeks but things didn't work out. First Gibraltar and then Panama, under increasing pressure from different states, decided to withdraw the flag. So we decided that we needed to close that sequence and see how we go forward."

What happens now with the Aquarius and the rescue mission?

Liu: "With the sabotage of the Aquarius, gone is the most basic humanitarian and legal commitment: saving lives at sea. For the time being, we are re-assessing so it's a bit too early to answer that. We can't resume unless we have a boat flag. There's no sign of that happening right now. We will talk to... countries and put forward what the reality is."

"It's clear that migration is a very, very politically loaded issue. Countries need to understand that human rights of a person do not disappear as soon as they cross the border."

What are the countries opposing your operations saying to this?

Liu: "Right now, it is being portrayed that the number of migrants reaching the shores of Europe is decreasing. That's being shown as a success story by these people. But on the flip side, that's because more and more people are being rescued by the Libyan coastguards and taken back to the filthy, overcrowded detention centers in Libya where almost 5,000 of them are living in inhumane conditions. We're telling them that the cost of their success is human lives and dignity."  

Go deeper: Read the full Al Jazeera report.

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
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The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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