Richard Gere halted his holiday in Italy for a humanitarian mission.
The Golden Globe winner and human rights activist was drawn to the headlines about 121 migrants — including 32 children — being stuck aboard the Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms in the Mediterranean Sea for eight days and counting while no European government offers them safe harbor. The actor, 69, reached out to the Spanish charity — asking “How can I help?,” according to the Associated Press — and on Friday loaded a boat with supplies and headed from the Italian island of Lampedusa to the ship.
In addition to delivering food and water, which they were close to running out of, Gere spoke with the stranded passengers who had fled war-torn Libya with smugglers on unseaworthy boats before being rescued by the humanitarian ship. In a video shared to Instagram by Gere’s activist wife, Alejandra Silva, Gere said, “The most important thing for these people here is to a free port, be able to get off the boat and get on land and start a new life. Be taken care of — and make a life for themselves. So, please, support us here at Open Arms and help these people, our brothers and sisters.”
There are babies on the boat — including 9-month-old twins — and Gere was seen bonding with a father holding a young child. The star, who welcomed his second son in February (his first with his Spanish bride), held up his phone to show the dad his own baby. “This is mine,” Gere said, touchingly trying to connect with the man despite language barriers.
This has been an ongoing saga. The European Union agreement states that migrants rescued in the open sea should be taken to the nearest safe haven, which would be, in this case, Malta or Italy. However, both countries have refused to let them dock. In fact, if the boat enters Italian waters, the organization will be fined over $1 million. (The Italian government did allow two heavily pregnant women as well as the sister of one of them to disembark.) So Open Arms has called on French, German and Spanish governments to help — so far to no avail.
In his request for other nations to assist, Óscar Camps, the director of Open Arms, said that “90 percent of those on board have been raped and tortured and need urgent medical assistance,” the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports.
This migrant situation has been described as “the new normal” with European governments increasingly closing their doors to those who cross the sea. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has gained support for “his hard-line stance against migrant arrivals,” according to the New York Times. Both Italy and Malta feel their fellow EU countries should be taking in more of the migrants, and the EU Commission will only intervene by request of a national government.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees data, 38,039 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea to Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta this year. An additional 839 are categorized as dead or missing.
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