Despite the change of government in Italy the stand-offs on the Med continue. With the Ocean Viking awaiting a safe port for disembarkation, there are no operational civilian rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

After 11 days at sea, Malta allowed the rescue vessel Alan Kurdi to disembark the five remaining people it rescued in the Mediterranean last week. The German NGO Sea-Eye, which operates the ship, had filed a judicial protest calling on the Maltese Prime Minister and the Commander of the Armed Forces to coordinate the disembarkation. They reportedly revoked the protest in exchange for being allowed to disembark. Eight out of thirteen people had already been disembarked in previous days for medical reasons including attempted suicide. Two EU member states agreed to accept those rescued.

Malta’s armed forces (AFM) airlifted a 9-month pregnant woman and her husband from the rescue vessel Ocean Viking. The ship, which is operated jointly by the NGOs Doctors Without Borders and SOS MEDITERANNEE is still carrying 82 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in the course of the last week. After the ship rescued 50 people from a rubber boat off the Libyan coast the crew took in another 34 people rescued by a German sailboat. The Norwegian-flagged ship appealed to Malta and Italy for a safe place of disembarkation but is still waiting to be assigned.

“With no rescue ship currently in the area to save lives off the Libyan coast, our ship that is perfectly able to assist must not be held up for days while men, women and children continue to flee Libya across the central Mediterranean with no humanitarian rescue assets present”, SOS MEDIERANEE warned.

The rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 is still blocked in the port of Licata, Sicily, for over 70 days. The crew demands Europe to step up and support the new Italian government in its new course on migration, which has not yet ushered in substantive policy change towards civilian sea rescue organisations.

Although demands by the new government coalition partner, the Democratic Party, stirred up hopes for a less hostile migration policy, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte promised to remain “even more rigorous on illegal immigration than the previous government”. He urged EU states to create an “automatic system” on burden-sharing, so that if 100 refugees were to arrive in Italy, he could be sure that other states would take their fair share. He also announced penalties for those EU states who do not participate in the redistribution of those arriving.

Ongoing discussions between Italy, Malta, France and Germany are addressing stand-off situations on the Med. According to Missing Migrants 929 migrant deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean in 2019.

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Photo: (CC) Comseventhflt, November 2017

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