150 people are awaiting a safe port for disembarkation. Italy and Malta close ports to rescued people due to health risks. Conceding loss of control, the Libyan government declares Tripoli port unsafe.

On Monday, the rescue vessel Alan Kurdi, operated by the NGO Sea Eye, rescued a total of 150 people in two operations in international waters off the Libyan coast after being alerted by the NGO Alarm Phone. A Libyan militia hindered the first operation firing shots and causing people to jump into the water. In the second operation, an Italian supply ship already present at the location did not undertake efforts to conduct a rescue operation.

The Italian and Maltese governments have told the German foreign ministry that due to the coronavirus pandemic they will not allow the disembarkation of 150 people, even if other member states agreed to relocate them. According to Sea-Eye, the German government has advised the NGO not to conduct any further rescues and to call back its already deployed ships.
On Tuesday, the Italian government issued a decree declaring its seaports “unsafe” for the disembarkation of people rescued from boats flying a foreign flag for the duration of the health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. It states that Italy is currently not able to guarantee an absence of any threat to the lives of rescued people after landing in Italy. After Maltese Armed Forces rescued a group of 66 people in their Search and Rescue (SAR) zone on Thursday, Malta published a similar declaration also sent to the European Commission. Sea Eye expresses understanding for the difficult situation in Italy and is asking the German government to arrange for the immediate transfer of all persons to Germany by plane.

The NGO Alarm Phone commented: “We are very concerned about the effects of the Italian decree and how European authorities are using the Covid-19 pandemic to increase restrictive measures. With Malta also decreasing rescue efforts, we are witnessing a deadly rescue gap off the Libyan coast.’’

This week, around 500 people left Libya by boat. 124 people who arrived to Lampedusa on Tuesday in boats were put into quarantine close to the port. 280 people were intercepted by a Libyan patrol boat, which is refused entry to the port of Tripoli as the al-Sarraj government recognises that it has no longer control over the port due to the on-going conflict. As of April 9, 241 people have been recorded to have died trying to reach Europe by the Mediterranean in 2020.

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Photo: (CC) Kevan, March 2008

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.