Richard Gere boards migrant ship stuck in the Mediterranean
Actor Richard Gere joined a humanitarian ship off the Mediterranean coast as its crew continues to wait for a safe port to accept the migrants they rescued.
The Spanish ship, Open Arms, has been stuck off Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa for eight days because no European country has offered to take in the 121 migrants on board.
Gere, 69, is reported to have boarded the ship some 31 miles from the island.
The US actor helped bring food and supplies to the boat and asked for support for the ship, whose passengers include nine-month-old Ethiopian twins.
“Everyone is doing okay now,” Gere said in a video released by Open Arms.
“There were two boats in the middle of the ocean. One of the boats was turned back and taken by the Libyan navy. We don’t know what happened to them.”
In photos posted online, Gere can be seen sharing food with the migrants and also speaking to a man holding a young child.
The actor pointed to pictures of his six-month-old son on his phone and said: “This is mine. The same age.”
Open Arms, a non-profit NGO, posted the video on its Facebook page, saying: “Being a father does not understand colours or borders.”
The organisation says the 121 people on board are victims of abuse, rape and torture.
The ship is closest to Italy, but interior minister Matteo Salvini is popular for his hardline stance against migrant arrivals.
The EU Commission said it had not yet received any requests by a national government to intervene, as it typically requires.
But spokeswoman Annika Breidhardt said it was reaching out to member states “to show solidarity”.
She said the solution depended on “the willingness” of EU countries to step up.
Earlier on Friday, Open Arms posted a video of the rescued migrants sleeping on the ship’s deck, saying: “What a shame Europe is not able to give a port for these people in eight days.”
Such stand-offs have persisted in the last 14 months since Italy’s populist government took office and Mr Salvini became interior minister.
He says the EU and other member states have left Italy alone to manage migrant arrivals for too long.
Mr Salvini has likened humanitarian rescue ships to migrant taxi services and this week won parliamentary approval for a new security decree that increased fines on ships entering Italian waters without permission to €1m (£920,000) from €50,000 (£46,500).
Data from the UN Refugee Agency shows nearly 4,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea so far this year – most of them from neighbouring Tunisia.
That is a considerable reduction compared with last year when 23,370 migrants arrived the same way.