After being denied access to Italian ports and left at sea for ten days 62 migrants aboard the search and rescue vessel Alan Kurdi were allowed to disembark in Malta. The access was granted only upon promises from other European member states to receive those recued.
The ten day stand-off over the 62 stranded migrants sparked by Italian refusal to allow access to the port in Lampedusa ended when Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat accepted their disembarkation in Malta upon confirmation that they would be received by Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal. The crew of the vessel were denied access to disembark in Malta and have suspended search and rescue operations to seek permission to land in Spain diminishing the already limited rescue capacity on the Med where 356 people have died or gone missing this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Meanwhile, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini currently under heavy critique from the Italian military officials for overstepping his mandate by denying disembarkation of migrants has reportedly signed a third directive to prevent NGO rescue ships from entering Italian waters and ports. Ships rescuing people without permission of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) will accordingly be denied access. The NGO Mediterranea warns that the directive is in breach of national and international law.
After up to four month of waiting aid vessels have been allowed by Spanish authorities to depart for Greek Islands but under threat of sanctions if they enter search and rescue areas of the Central Mediterranean without permission.
Based on information from witnesses and GPS data the rescue NGO Alarm Phone reports that the Greek Coast Guard led a boat carrying 35 people in distress in Greek waters back into Turkish waters rather than conducting a rescue operation.
Without mentioning search and rescue objectives, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini urged European countries to send naval ships back to the Mediterranean. She underlines the need to fight trafficking and the arms and oil smuggling that fuels the conflict in Libya. The mandate of Operation Sophia was extended in March 2019 but naval patrols were suspended. The operation has rescued 45,000 people on the Med since its launch in 2015.
For further information:
- ECRE, Spain: Open Arms Search and Rescue Vessel Denied Permission to Conduct Mission, January 2019
- ECRE, Malta Charges Five Rescued Migrants with ‘Terrorist Activities’ while Facts Remain Unclear , April 2019
- UNHCR, UNHCR warns over Mediterranean rescue capacity, September 2018
- ECRE, The Struggle Continues for Civilian Search and Rescue in the Med, November 2018
- ECRE, Proactiva rescue ship released, crew members remain under investigation, April 2018
Photo: (CC) Tauralbus, October 2010
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.