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NBA star Gasol slams Mediterranean migrant inaction

Spanish NBA star and former Mediterranean rescue volunteer Marc Gasol called Tuesday for action to help migrants making the “almost suicidal” journey from Africa to Europe.

A year ago, Gasol volunteered aboard charity Open Arms’ ship Astral where he “learnt that human life is fragile, that sea waves are as hard as marble, and that politicians don’t see that,” he told Tuesday’s La Repubblica daily.

The 34-year-old centre, NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors and representing Spain in the current World Cup, did not blame any country or politician, but Italy and Malta have consistently refused to allow civilian rescue vessels to dock.

They say they bear an unfair share of responsibility for migrants as their first point of arrival from North Africa.

“I’m not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, I’m not thinking about governments but people, the risk they take when they take to the sea for a journey that is almost suicidal,” the former basketball world champion and multiple European champion said.

“It’s time to do something so that countries reach an agreement, a shared solution. At the moment, it’s everyone for themselves and they continue to die,” he said.

Charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesday said that a sailboat had rescued 34 stricken migrants, including an infant and a pregnant woman, aboard a dinghy off Libya and brought them to the charity’s Ocean Viking vessel.

The ship, operated jointly by MSF and SOS Mediterranee, already has 50 rescued migrants on board and is waiting off Malta for a country to grant it safe port.

Another rescue vessel, Alan Kurdi, was finally given permission by Valletta to disembark its five saved migrants Tuesday, after an accord with other European countries to take them in.

Malta had previously evacuated some of those the Alan Kurdi had rescued, but only after they became suicidal.

“Migrations are a natural phenomenon: people flee countries where there’s war, where you die of hunger, in search of a better world for their children,” said Gasol.

“Dying at sea in search of a future, it’s awful. It’s no one’s fault to be born on the less fortunate side of the Mediterranean… You can’t make politics and seek votes on the back of people’s suffering,” he said.

“If politicians had come on board they would behave differently. Seeing a drama of this kind close up has an unbearable emotional impact.”