News (EN)

Phase two in the Central Mediterranean: Italy shall respect and enforce human rights for everyone

Monday 4 May 2020

Mediterranea Saving Humans demands the Italian Government to disembark the 78 people aboard of the ship “Marina” and to give the answers that the island of Lampedusa has been waiting for too long.

In recent days, we have helped unravel the inhuman and illegal practices of deportation of women, men and children fleeing from the Libyan hell through the Mediterranean Sea. We helped to uncover the responsibilities of the Maltese government, and prevented hundreds of human beings from suffering the same fate of the 12 people who died on Easter, or the 51 people returned to the Libyan jailers. All that is also responsibility of Italy, who has been delaying the rescue operations with the alibi of the SAR areas of competence, when the requests for help came from just a few tens of miles from its shores. It is no longer acceptable for the Italian government to play the criminal game of formalities when it comes to save human lives.

Even if it means going in the international waters of the Maltese SAR area, Italy cannot stand by while crimes such as inaction to request of help or deportation to Libya are being committed. Italy and the whole European Union cannot be complicit in all that.

We ask that Italy will immediately accept the 78 people rescued by the merchant ship “Marina” that has been waiting for the assignment of a safe harbor for days now.

We ask that the Italian government will deal first with safeguarding human lives and then with eventual political-diplomatic litigation with Malta.

We loudly raise our voice to ask that Italy will focus on Human Rights, on the International Conventions about sea rescue and on the Right of Asylum, and that will be the first Country to practice that very same solidarity that is demanding to Europe for itself.

We ask that no negotiations on relocation will take place for anyone who flees from torture and war and who is saved from death at sea. Refugees shall not become political hostages. 

We ask that the difficult situation on the island of Lampedusa, with a small and overcrowded hotspot and tens of migrants forced to stay in unacceptable conditions on the dock, will be addressed and resolved with effective and rational solutions. Both the inhabitants of the island and the rescued people need to be offered dignity and measures to prevent and combat contagion.

We ask that Lampedusa will not be left alone, or transformed into a stage to show to the media, to then justify ports closed to all who have the right of law to be welcomed.

We ask all of that to the Italian government because, in order not to become inhuman like others, humanity must be practiced with concrete actions, not described in words and then denied by facts.

News (EN)

Sabotage, Delays and Non-Assistance: Another day in Malta’s SAR zone – Alarm Phone

ALARM PHONE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE DISTRESS CASE WHERE A BOAT WITH 66 PEOPLE ON BOARD WAS ALLEGEDLY SABOTAGED BY THE ARMED FORCES OF MALTA (8-10 APRIL 2020)

In light of an ongoing enquiry against members of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) for sabotaging the engine of a boat in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, this Alarm Phone report seeks to provide a detailed account of the distress case that reached us in the early hours of 8 April 2020. We offer a timeline of events that took place between 8-10 April, as well as transcripts of two phone calls in which the 66 people in distress informed us that the AFM had sabotaged their engine and that they were watching but failing to rescue them.

Despite being informed about this boat in distress many times by phone and email, and despite receiving regular GPS positions from the Alarm Phone, the AFM failed to rescue the 66 people for about 40 hours. Instead of rescuing, they were merely observing the people in need through aerial assets. In this way, the suffering of the people at risk was unnecessarily prolonged, and their lives were placed in greater danger. Overcrowded and unstable boats in distress can easily capsize at any time and any delay in rescue can end in casualties, as proven by the 12 deaths that occurred just days later in the Maltese SAR zone in the context of the illegal push-back of 51 survivors to war and torture in Libya.

In addition to the failure to render immediate assistance and to rescue the people in distress in the Maltese SAR zone, the AFM are said to have actively sabotaged the migrant boat. While the AFM later argued that the cutting of a cable to the boat’s engine was a “standard procedure” during a SAR operation, the testimonies of the people in distress, as well as the timeline of events, proves that this was not the case. The first task of a rescuer is to calm people down, as panic on board can be extremely dangerous both for the rescued and for the rescuers. The fact that the AFM threatened the people in distress, verbally and physically, suggests that their aim was not to rescue the boat.

While the boat was in distress off its coast, Malta closed its harbours by declaring Malta ‘unsafe’ due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Paradoxically, and hypocritically, the closed ports policy was justified also as a way to protect the health and safety of migrants who, so the argument, would be spared the risk to their lives by preventing them from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This ‘public health’ justificationignores not only the devastating conditions in Libya, a warzone in which migrants experience systematic forms of torture, abuse, and indiscriminate detention, but also grotesquely led to increased suffering and loss of life within the Maltese SAR zone.

In this report, we show in painstaking detail in what ways, and how often, Alarm Phone sought to mobilise rescue by alerting the Maltese authorities. In total, Alarm Phone reached out to RCC Malta 42 times: 34 times via the phone, though getting through only 11 times (mostly without receiving any information), and eight times via email. Moreover, we provide a full account of the testimonies received by the people in distress, which provide evidence to counter the dominant narrative provided by the AFM on the events.

Despite trying to portray the current situation as “exceptional” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and thereby trying to justify the drastic border enforcement measures that have already cost lives, it is not only during the most recent period that RCC Malta and the AFM have seriously endangered lives at risk at sea.1 As we will show in a forthcoming report, the AFM has a track-record of practices of non-assistance, delayed rescues, and push-back operations at sea, thereby seriously violating human rights, maritime law, and international refugee conventions.

TIMELINE OF A DISTRESS CASE – 08-10 APRIL 2020

APRIL 8

At 03.00h CEST, Alarm Phone received a distress call from 66 people in international waters (N 34°12’, E013°55’), close to the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone. After this call, Alarm Phone lost contact to the people in distress for the following 14 hours. Several times, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome and RCC Malta to relay the distress case. While MRCC Rome took note of the details, RCC Malta was not reachable on all three emergency numbers (+35621257267, +35621809279 and +35622494202).

At 05.32h, Alarm Phone informed RCC Malta and MRCC Rome via email, without response. The first direct contact with RCC Malta was at 05.47h CEST, when the officer stated that the boat was located in the Libyan SAR. Alarm Phone clarified that contact had been lost with the people in distress so that the boat could have reached the Maltese SAR zone in the meantime.

At 11.42h, Alarm Phone was able to reach an officer of the so-called Libyan coastguard (scLYCG), Commodore Masoud Abdalsamad, on the phone, who stated that the scLYCG would need two hours to obtain Covid-protection equipment before launching an operation.

At 13.07h, Alarm Phone sent a second email to RCC Malta, asking for updates on any rescue activities – the email remained unanswered.

At 13.17h, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome who stated that they were not responsible for rescuing this boat in distress.

At 17.31h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone again and shared a GPS position that showed them within the Maltese SAR Zone (34°48’N, 013°27’E). They said that they had been at sea for four days, that they were embarking water, and that their engine was not working properly. They reported that they were in a dangerous situation and they asked for immediate help. The people in distress also informed Alarm Phone that a Maltese vessel, the P51, had approached them, telling them to leave Maltese waters.

At 18.17h, Alarm Phone informed RCC Malta via email about the urgency of the situation and relayed the updated GPS position of the boat in distress.

At 18.17h, Alarm Phone spoke to the people in distress for the third time. Once more, they asked for urgent rescue as water was in the boat. They also reported that they had received a call to their satellite phone from a number with the Maltese country code.

At 18.31h and at 18.40h, Alarm Phone tried to get through to RCC Malta, using three different numbers – but in vain.

At 21:07h, a helicopter of the AFM, AW139 (Maritime AIS: SAR 2281), went to the location of the boat in distress, according to tracking data reported by the journalist Sergio Scandura. According to the tracking platform Vessel Finder, it returned at around 23:00h. A second aircraft of the AFM (B200 AS1731) was documented as moving in direction south-west at 20:34h for a mission that lasted for 129 minutes.

Again, from 23.40h on, Alarm Phone tried to reach RCC Malta on the phone several times, but without success.

APRIL 9

At 00.16h, Alarm Phone asked RCC Malta and MRCC Rome once more via email to immediately launch a rescue operation.

At 00.27h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta on all 3 numbers, without success.

At 00.36h, Alarm Phone called MRCC Rome and they confirmed that they had received our email on this distress case but declined to provide further information.

At 03:50h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta several times and on different numbers but in vain.

Over several hours, Alarm Phone tried to re-connect with the people in distress but was unable to get through to them.

At 09.55h, the people in distress tried to reach out to Alarm Phone twice, but due to the bad connection it was not possible to communicate.

At 10.10h, the people in distress called Alarm Phone again. This time, we were able to communicate. They passed on a new, but incomplete, GPS position: N35°33.642 E°14.11 (the 11 is unclear). They confirmed that their engine was still running.

At 10.43h, Alarm Phone forwarded the updated GPS position to RCC Malta and MRCC Rome via email. During phone calls with RCC Malta (11.08h) and MRCC Rome (11.24h), both confirmed that they had received the e-mail and the updated GPS position, but declined to provide further information on their intention, or lack thereof, to launch a SAR operation.

At 14.16h, Alarm Phone reached RCC Malta on the phone, and the officer said: “The policy of Malta because of Corona is that nothing can leave Malta and nothing can enter Malta and this includes migrants.” When reminded of their duty to rescue people in distress at sea, the officer responded that they were investigating the case as they would investigate all cases.

At 17.34h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone, stating that they had been at sea for five days. They shared their updated GPS position, which showed them 17 nautical miles off the Maltese coast (35° 39’N, 014° 13’E). They reported that their engine was not working, that they had almost run out of fuel and that they were embarking water. The people in distress also said that they had contacted the Armed Forces of Malta through their satellite phone to inform them of their dangerous situation and to ask for rescue. They said that the Armed Forces of Malta told them to continue by themselves.

A few minutes later, at 17.38h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone once more and reported that a Maltese military ship had cut the cord to their engine and had told them to die at sea.

Here we provide excerpts of their testimony to Alarm Phone, which we recorded:

Alarm Phone: “Hello, this is WatchTheMed Alarm Phone.”

Person on Boat: “Hello, hello, yesterday I call you. [Inaudible]. We need your help, we need your help. We have emergency Sir, we have emergency Sir. Now I see Malta, I see Malta. [Inaudible]. The Malta military, the Malta military is coming and cut the cable of electricity for the motor. And the Malta military knows that the water is in the boat right now, right now. He says, not that anybody come to Malta. He said that. And when he moved, he said I leave you, I leave you die in the water but nobody come to Malta. I will give you the location, my location, the location by GPS. [Inaudible]. Please please someone call help us.”

Alarm Phone: “What is our location right now?”

Person on Boat: “Okay okay yes. Hello Sir? North 35 degree, 39.454, East 014 degree, 12.817.”

Immediately after this call, at 17.45h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta, but the officer refused to copy the new GPS position of the boat in distress and hung up. Alarm Phone tried to reach RCC Malta again several times, but the calls were put on hold.

At 18.00h, the people in distress reached out to Alarm Phone. We told them that we were still trying to organise help for them.

At 18.02h, Alarm Phone sent e-mails to RCC Malta and MRCC Rome to provide the updated GPS position and to urge them to rescue immediately. Soon after, at 18.10h, RCC Malta confirmed on the phone that they had received this email and that they were investigating the case.

At 18.27h, Alarm Phone received yet another call from the people in distress, who were in panic and reported that they could see two Maltese military ships (including AFM vessel P52). They confirmed once more that the military had sabotaged their engine, and that they were trying to take away their phone.

Here we provide the full transcript of their testimony to Alarm Phone, which we recorded:

Alarm Phone: “Hello, this is WatchTheMed Alarm Phone.”

Person on Boat: “Hello hello Sir, please take this number. The military of Malta want to take my phone.”

Alarm Phone: “They want to take your phone?”

Person on Boat: “Please help us, please help us. I call you one more time. Please help us, please help us. We will die, we will die in the water. Hello?”

Alarm Phone: “Yes, I can hear you, we are recording okay?”

Person on Boat: “Take this number, please, take this number and send ship to help us, please, come on.”

Alarm Phone: “Can you tell me the number of the ship that you see. Is it P51?”

Person on Boat: “[Inaudible]. You send someone to help us?”

Alarm Phone: “Can you tell us the number of the ship that you see, the military ship?”

Person on Boat: “Ok Ok [Inaudible]. Please, we will die, we will die in Maltese water.”

Alarm Phone: “We gave your position to the Maltese coastguards.”

Person on Boat: “Ok, the Malta military is [near?] us. The number P52. Please. We will die, we will die.”

Alarm Phone: “Your engine is no longer running, right?”

Person on Boat: “Ok, ok, the cable of motor, the Malta military cut the cable. Now now we have 5 days in the water and water in the boat right now. Please some of you help us. Please.”

Alarm Phone: “One more question, how far away, how far away is the military from you? How far away is the military boat?”

Person on Boat: “Ehm, ok, I don’t know but I see there two ships, two ships military of Malta. P52 and I don’t know the number of the other one.”

Alarm Phone: “Ok, does it look the same? Do the two ships look the same?”

Person on Boat: “Ok, we wanna help, we wanna help, we wanna help. We need your help, please, we will die.”

Alarm Phone: “Do the two ships look the same. Are they the same ship?”

Person on Boat: “Any any any ship will help us send to Europe, not back to Libya. Please please help us. Okay take this is the number of location.”

Alarm Phone: “The military ship. The military ship.”

Person on Boat: “Alan Kurdi or Sea-Watch or any ship. Please we want a life. North… north…”

Alarm Phone: “Can you please tell me if the two ships, do they look the same? The military ship?”

Person on Boat: “Okay okay okay, take this location… North 35 degree, 35.423.”

Alarm Phone: “35.423.”

Person on Boat: “Yes, again. North 35 degree, 35.423.”

Alarm Phone: “East? East?”

Person on Boat: “014 degree, 13.067.”

Alarm Phone: “014 degree, 13.067.”

Person on Boat: “Yeah yeah. The military of Malta [inaudible] my phone. Please, this, this.”

Alarm Phone: “Please keep your phone.”

Person on Boat: “Ok, send send send send anything. Please. Please help us, please help us.”

Alarm Phone: “We will try. We already alerted the Malta coastguard. Okay.”

Person on Boat: “[Inaudible]. You can you can say that… The military of Malta steals us. Okay?”

Alarm Phone: “One more question, okay? There are two ships. Two ships. Malta. Okay?”

Person on boat: “Please hurry up.”

This was the last call we had with the people in distress.

Last GPS position

GPS POSITION OF THE BOAT IN DISTRESS, AT THE TIME OF THE SABOTAGE

At 19.00h, Alarm Phone sent an e-mail to RCC Malta and to UNHCR Malta, reporting that according to the testimony of the people in distress, a Maltese military vessel had approached the boat in distress and sabotaged their engine, telling them that they would let them die at sea. In this email, Alarm Phone expressed concerns about the events and requested immediate clarification as well as urgent rescue.

At 19.08h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “They called again saying: “Please help us! We will die. We will die in the water. We will die in Maltese waters. The Malta military ship number is P52, the number of the ship. Please we will die. Now we are 5 days in the water and the water is in the boat now. Please help.”

At 19.47h, Alarm Phone received a phone call from an officer of RCC Malta. The officer claimed that the boat Alarm Phone had alerted RCC Malta to was not in distress and said that it is not in the capacity of the Alarm Phone to decide whether or not a boat is in distress. The officer stated that all Maltese ports were closed and that, by law, no one would enter or exit Malta. The officer also stated that anyone entering Malta illegally would be brought to detention for breaking the law. Asked by Alarm Phone what would happen to any boat in distress, the officer said that they would not need to inform us about procedures.

At 20.25h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “We cannot reach the people in distress anymore. We hope this is a sign that public pressure worked & Malta was forced to take them aboard. Malta’s AFM vessel P51 had approached this boat already yesterday but disappeared, as the migrants reported at 17.32h CEST on 08/04.” And shortly after we tweeted: “The Armed Forces of Malta did not react to our pleas for rescue. The migrants survived another night at sea and moved closer to Malta. We could reach them only tonight again when they reported of the attack at sea. They state that two military vessels were nearby.”

At 21.13h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta once more, but the officer declined to provide any information on the situation.

Around 21.15h, the Maltese Government released a press release declaring that “the Maltese authorities are not in a position to guarantee the rescue of prohibited immigrants on board of any boats, ships or other vessels, nor to ensure the availability of a “safe place” on the Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea.”

At 22.13h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta once more. The officer declined again to provide information on the ongoing situation and was unable to contact the duty officer.

At 23.40h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta again. The officer stated that he did not have any information.

APRIL 10

At 00.58h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta. The officer said he would forward the call to the duty officer but then hung up the phone.

At 07.35h, Alarm Phone called RCC Malta and received the information that a rescue of 66 people had been completed the evening before.

At 08.37h, Alarm Phone tweeted: “Finally, at 7.35h today, Malta confirmed to us that the people (66 in total) were disembarked at ~22.30h last night, ~41h after first alert. We call on Malta to stop non-assistance & attacks on people in distress! Do not use #Covid19 as excuse to violate fundamental human rights!”


[1] SOS: 110 people in Malta SAR need immediate rescue: https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/03/14/sos-110-people-in-malta-sar-need-immediate-rescue/

Non-Assistance, Delays, Interceptions, Refoulements. Central Mediterranean Regional Analysis. 1 October 2019 – 31 December 2019: https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/01/05/central-mediterranean-regional-analysis/

Back to the Libyan Warzone – How Malta Instructed Libyan Authorities to Intercept 50 Migrants within the Maltese SAR Zone: https://alarmphone.org/en/2019/10/23/back-to-the-libyan-warzone/?post_type_release_type=post

https://twitter.com/seawatch_intl/status/1215982102535200771?s=20

https://mediterranearescue.org/en/news-en/breaking-news-from-mare-jonio-engaged-in-patrolling-and-monitoring-operations-in-the-central-mediterranean/

News (EN)

Mediterranea Saving Humans warns Malta’s Authorities: “Immediately Place of safety for the 90 shipwrecked, no human rights violations”.

The President of Mediterranea Saving Humans, civil society organisation based in Italy, Alessandra Sciurba, sent an urgent letter to the Maltese authorities regarding the case of the wooden boat with supposed 90 people on board just rescued by the cargo ship “Marina”, under the coordination of the RCC of La Valletta. The letter is addressed to the Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela and  also to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs for human rights, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the Italian authorities.
“In view of the recent cases in the last two weeks, one of which resulted in the illegal push-back of the shipwrecked people to a port in Libya, country from which they were fleeing, with this communication we formally ask You which measures You intend to take to safeguard the lives of these approx. 90 people at sea, rescueing and recovering them, and disembarking them in a safe European port, appropriate Place of Safety in accordance with international law”.
“We also warn You to take steps, such as ordering their transfer to a country at war, which may constitute serious violations of maritime and international law, in particular Article 33 of the Geneva Convention on the refugee status, and articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the repeated result of these violations  can constitute a crime against humanity”.
News (EN)

Latest Tactic to Push Migrants From Europe? A Private, Clandestine Fleet

The government of Malta enlisted three privately owned fishing trawlers to intercept migrants in the Mediterranean, and force them back to a war zone,  officials and a boat captain say.

By Patrick Kingsley and Haley Willis


April 30, 2020

With the onset of the coronavirus, Malta announced that it was too overwhelmed to rescue migrants making the precarious crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, where the tiny island nation has been on the front line of the maritime migration route over the past decade.

In secret, however, the Maltese authorities have worked hard to make sure no migrants actually reach the island.

It dispatched a small fleet of private merchant vessels in April to intercept migrants at sea and return them by force to a war zone in Libya, according to information provided by the captain of one of the boats, a senior commander in the Libyan Coast Guard, and a former Maltese official involved in the episode.

The three repurposed fishing trawlers are privately owned, but acted on the instructions of the Armed Forces of Malta, the captain and the others said.

The clandestine operation, which some experts consider illegal under international law, is just the latest dubious measure taken by European countries in recent years to stem the migration from Africa and the Middle East that has sown political chaos in Europe and fueled a populist backlash.

Since 2017, European states, led by Italy, have paid the Libyan government to return more migrants to Libya, hassled the private rescue organizations that try to bring them to Europe, and asked passing merchant vessels to intercept them before they enter European waters.

But Malta’s latest tactic may be among the most egregious, maritime experts say, because it involved a designated flotilla of private vessels, based in a European port, that intercepted and expelled asylum seekers from international waters that fall within the responsibility of European coast guards.

“Against a pattern of increased abuses against asylum seekers in recent years, this newest approach stands out,” said Itamar Mann, an expert in maritime and refugee law at the University of Haifa in Israel. “Its methods chillingly resemble organized crime, and indeed the operations of people smugglers, which European policymakers so adamantly denounce.”

“The facts available raise serious concerns that we are seeing the emergence of a novel systematic pattern, such that may even put Maltese state officials in danger of criminal liability, at home or abroad,” Dr. Mann added.

The Maltese government did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The activity was first documented on the evening of April 12, when three aging blue trawlers left the Grand Harbour in Valletta, the Maltese capital, within an hour of each other. The three boats — the Dar Al Salam 1, the Salve Regina and the Tremar — departed at the request of the Maltese authorities, according to the captain of the Tremar, Amer Abdelrazek.

A former Maltese official, Neville Gafa, said he was enlisted by the government that same night to use his connections in Libya to ensure the safe passage of the first two boats to Libya.

The boats did not submit paperwork to the immigration police, and switched off their satellite tracking devices soon after leaving port, maritime databases show.

But their mission had already been determined, said Mr. Gafa, who said he had been asked by the Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff, Clyde Caruana, to help coordinate the operation. Mr. Caruana did not respond to requests for comment, but a government spokesman told The Times of Malta that Mr. Gafa had been asked to liaise with Libya on a separate matter that was unconnected to the episode.

The trawlers were sent to intercept a migrant vessel attempting to reach Malta from Libya — and which had been issuing mayday calls for some 48 hours — and then return its passengers to Libya, Mr. Gafa said.

The stricken migrant vessel was still in international waters, according to coordinates provided by the migrants by satellite phone to Alarm Phone, an independent hotline for shipwrecked refugees. But it had reached the area of jurisdiction of Malta’s armed forces, making it Malta’s responsibility under international maritime law to rescue its passengers and provide them with sanctuary.

Two of the trawlers — the Dar Al Salam 1 and the Tremar — reached the migrant vessel early on April 14, guided by a Maltese military helicopter, Mr. Abdelrazek said. Several of the migrants had already drowned, according to testimony later gathered by Alarm Phone.

The roughly 50 survivors were taken aboard the Dar Al Salam 1, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

The Dar Al Salam 1 and the Salve Regina sailed to Tripoli on April 15, the former carrying the migrants and the latter carrying several tons of food and water, as a show of appreciation to the Libyan government, Mr. Abdelrazek and Mr. Gafa said. The Tremar waited in international waters, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

The Maltese authorities told their Libyan counterparts that the Dar Al Salam 1 was in fact a Maltese vessel called the Maria Cristina, said Commodore Masoud Abdalsamad, who oversees international operations at the Libyan Coast Guard. To further obscure its identity, the boat’s crew had also painted over the ship’s name and flew a Maltese flag to confuse the Libyan Coast Guard.

Though based physically in Malta and owned by a Maltese shipowner, the vessel is legally registered in Tobruk, a port in east Libya controlled by opponents of the authorities in Tripoli. The crew did not want to risk upsetting the Tripoli government by broadcasting its links to Tobruk, leading it to hide its name and home port, Mr. Abdelrazek said.

After disembarking, the migrants were taken to a notorious detention center run by a pro-government militia, where migrants are routinely tortured, held for ransom or sold to other militias. The detention cells stand close to an arms depot, and the surrounding area was hit by shelling in December.

Conditions at the detention center are “utterly appalling,” said Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, an arm of the United Nations. “People are caged in overcrowded hangars with barely any access to food or sanitation facilities.”

“Many tell us of the abuse they endure and the inhumane ways in which they are exploited,’’ Ms. Msehli added. ‘‘Reports of migrants being used to load weapons, and the detention center’s proximity to a military facility, raise serious concerns over the safety of people detained there arbitrarily.”

After departing Tripoli, the Dar Al Salam 1 turned its satellite identification system back on, and the boat resurfaced off the coast of Libya on the evening of April 15, data provided by Marine Traffic, a maritime database, shows.

The owner of the Salve Regina, Dominic Tanti, declined to comment through an intermediary, and the owner of the Tremar, Yasser Aziz, did not return a message seeking comment.

The owner of the Dar Al Salam 1, Carmelo Grech, did not to respond to multiple requests for comment sent by text, voice message and a letter hand-delivered to his apartment. But he has confirmed his boat’s involvement to a Maltese newspaper, and several outlets have already highlighted its role, including the Italian newspaper, Avvenire, and the Maltese blogger Manuel Delia.

Mr. Grech and his boat have colorful histories, raising questions in Malta about why the government involved them in a state-led operation.

Mr. Grech has previously recounted how he used the boat, then known as the Mae Yemanja, to bring supplies to Libyan rebels during the Libyan revolution in 2011. In 2012, court records show it was impounded after Mr. Grech was accused, though later acquitted, of smuggling contraband cigarettes from Libya to Malta.

In 2015, Mr. Grech was detained by a Libyan faction for several days for what he later described as a misunderstanding over his visas.

Maltese ship records obtained by The Times show that Mr. Grech canceled his boat’s registration in Malta last February, before repainting it to show it had been re-registered in Tobruk, for undisclosed reasons.

Mr. Abdelrazek also has a criminal history, having been convicted in 2014 of forging documents, court records show.

After appearing briefly in Malta last week, the Dar Al Salam 1 and the Salve Regina returned again to sea on Sunday.

Their satellite trackers were once again switched off shortly afterward.

Patrick Kingsley reported from Berlin, and Haley Willis from New York. Reporting was contributed by Karam Shoumali from Berlin, Jon Borg from Valletta, Malta, and Christoph Koettl from New York. Marc Tilley contributed research from Marseilles, France.

News (EN)

The Maltese Government must provide information on rescue operations

We are deeply concerned that the fate of around 62 migrants in distress at sea remains shrouded in secrecy. For more than 24 hours, men, women and children were known by European and Maltese authorities to be in distress within Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone, yet nothing is known of actions taken to ensure their safety. We remain in the dark as to whether the Government decided to rescue them, to refuse their entry to Malta, to return them to Libya or to let them drown.

It is disconcerting that news of migrants about to drown and who could be saved by Malta’s prompt intervention does not trigger any sort of response from the Government. We wholly appreciate Malta’s challenges in managing the arrival of migrants and refugees. Yet it is nonetheless abhorrent that these challenges render us insensitive to loss of life right at our doorstep.

The Government must not remain silent before such tragic incidents and must fully disclose policies, decisions and actions that could result in loss of life.

We are particularly appalled that the Government has made no attempt to explain its relationship with the private fishing vessel returning migrants to atrocities in Libya. Furthermore, yesterday’s revelations by Mr. Neville Gafá, confirming his coordination of illegal pushback operations under instruction from the Office of the Prime Minister, warrant full disclosure by the same Office.

Government is fully aware that returning migrants to Libya is a clear and unequivocal breach of international law, confirmed in 2013 by a decree of the European Court of Human Rights against Malta. Attempting to circumvent these obligations through the engagement of a private vessel would in no way absolve Malta of its legal and moral responsibilities. On the contrary, if such allegations of collusion were to be confirmed, they would indicate a cowardly and callous approach to human dignity itself.

We therefore urge the Government to provide clear and regularly updated information on every action taken by the Armed Forces of Malta since the moment it was alerted of the situation of around 62 migrants in distress in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone.

We also expect the Government to clarify its relationship with the owner of the Dar al Salam 1 (formerly the Mae Yemenija), in particular whether it instructed, requested or in any way cooperated with the owner to secure the return to Libya of at least one group of migrants.

Finally, it is imperative for the Government to disclose details of all Mr. Gafá’s activities in relation to illegal pushbacks to Libya.


Statement Of:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. Alarm Phone
  3. Allied Rainbow Communities
  4. Association for Justice, Equality and Peace
  5. Blue Door English
  6. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
  7. Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning
  8. Doctors for Choice Malta
  9. Great Oak Malta Association
  10. Integra Foundation
  11. Jesuit Refugee Service Malta
  12. Justice and Peace Commission
  13. Kopin
  14. Kunsill Nazzjonali taż-Żgħażagħ
  15. LGBTI+ Gozo
  16. Malta Emigrants’ Commission
  17. Malta House of Prayer Foundation
  18. Malta Humanist Association
  19. Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM)
  20. Migrant Women Association Malta
  21. Moviment Graffitti
  22. Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education
  23. Office of the Dean – Faculty for Social Wellbeing
  24. The People for Change Foundation
  25. Repubblika
  26. SOS Malta
  27. Spark 15
  28. Women’s Rights Foundation
News (EN)

The Easter of shame – A recap by Mediterranea

THE EASTER OF SHAME.

A RECAP BY MEDITERRANEA. 

In the silence of St. Peter’s Square, the top representatives of the European governments applauded the Pope’s “no one saves himself” before turning elsewhere, on the other side, in front of those who desperately needed help at sea. On Easter they demonstrated how abyssal can be the distance between what is said and what is done, abandoning for days those who needed to be saved at sea, without granting a “safe port” (PoS – Place of Safety) for the rescues operated by civil society ships or, worse, by returning women, men and children to their torturers.

The European governments, Italy and Malta in the front row, use the worst rhetoric to justify the closure of the ports: they cite the Global Pandemic, the health emergency as a motivation, as if this allowed to violate all human rights and the obligation to rescue at sea, and they put human beings once again against each other – mors tua vita mea – even in this condition of common emergency. On the contrary, this should have been the time to affirm the value of solidarity with more strenght.
What follows is the report of terrible days of unsuccessful relief, re-liability, guilty silences and criminal practices by government institutions. Some details and data are still missing, but the picture that is emerging is leading to the direct responsibility for the death of innocent people.

These days have also seen hundreds and hundreds of people mobilize in every way to save the lives of our brothers and sisters at sea. To force institutions to respect the law, international conventions, humanity. The extraordinary work of AlarmPhone, Sea Watch and Mediterranea, which put all their operational structures day and night on these cases, is intertwined with the activation of a multitude of people from civil society, in every European country, and in Italy and Malta in particular, who shouted SAVETHEM loudly! Save them! This is for us the CIVIL FLEET, and its ground crew intervention team. This is for us the soul of resistance and of the project to make the Mediterranean a sea of ​​peace, justice, respect and safeguard of life. Thank you all. We continue, both at sea and on land, to fight for a different world.

Here is the summary of what happened.

As always, the improvement of the meteorological conditions has brought an increase in the number of departures from the Libyan coasts. In a few days, hundreds of people took to the sea to flee from the war and to escape from the tortures, hunger, and death in the detention camps: the spread of coronavirus hasn’t stopped the tragedies of the world.

On the 6th of April, in two separate operations, Alan Kurdi, the ship of the German NGO Sea-Eye rescued 156 people from drowning, brought them aboard and asked for a Port of Safety (POS) to disembark them, as prescribed by international law. No one moved. Malta, despite its competence, refused to coordinate the rescue phases and denied the Place of Safety (PoS). On April 7, Italy hastily issued an interministerial decree absurd from a legal point of view and unacceptable from a human one: it declared the absence of safe ports on Italian soil due to the coronavirus pandemic. An instrumental and inhuman choice, because it is absolutely possible to reconcile the duties of the rescue with the protection of the public health of all, and because closing the ports to civil society ships without putting government ships at sea means simply condemning those at risk to death to drown. With a predictable domino effect, the same choice was immediately replicated: from Malta and, even more paradoxically, from Libya itself, which after having pocketed hundreds of millions of euros in three years to capture thousands of refugees at sea and bring them back to bombs and torture in violation of all their rights, suddenly realized to be at war and declared her ports “unsafe”, as if they had been before. To understand how harmful the Italian government’s decree was, just think that after declaring the “closure for war” of the port of Tripoli, Libya corrected the shot and moved on to the “closure for Covid”. After days of appeals from civil society and the intervention of several parliamentarians, even by majority, the people still on the Alan Kurdi (in the meantime they had made emergency medical evacuations due to the very difficult conditions on board) should be transferred today, Friday 17 April 11 days after the rescue, on board an Italian passenger ship, specially set up for the quarantine.

In the same last week, Watch The Med – Alarm Phone reported the presence of four other boats in difficulty in the central Mediterranean, with a total of more than 250 people on board, whose position, since last Friday 10 April, the Coordination Centers of the Italian and Maltese maritime aid had therefore been correctly and constantly informed. Despite the alarms, they decided not to intervene and not to provide information on the current situation, even if asked by members of Parliament.
Two of these boats miraculously managed to reach the Sicilian coast independently: 101 people, all of sub-Saharan origin, arrived in Pozzallo and another 77 in Porto Palo. Among them many children.

The third makeshift boat, with 47 people on board, including a pregnant woman with her seven-year-old daughter who was ill, and whose desperate request for help was spread by audio collected by AP, was rescued in extremis on April 13 from the civil ship Aita Mari, of the Basque NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario, who was moving from Syracuse to Spain for a technical stop, and who therefore had no medical staff or rescue team on board. Despite this, Aita Mari deviates her course and runs to the rescue of people in danger.
After other hours of waiting, and after new mobilizations of civil society and Italian parliamentarians, associations and the Maltese Church, the Valletta authorities finally decide to provide a minimum of assistance by sending food and paramedics. But due to the difficult weather conditions, the Air Force Malta helicopter cannot even get the doctor on board. Aita Mari, with 39 people on board because 8 have been evacuated by the Italian Coast Guard for reasons of medical urgency, is still waiting for a safe port of landing off the coast of Lampedusa, hitherto denied by Malta, which would have had the obligation having been the rescue carried out in his SAR area and by the Maltese Authorities themselves coordinated, nor by Italy, which however could decide it given the proximity to its coasts.

The case of the fourth boat remains, with 55 people on board, with whom AP loses all contact starting from the afternoon of Easter Sunday. Malta decides to send a Navtex message with request for intervention to the nearest ships only on the evening of Monday 13 April, after one of its aerial layouts identified the position of the boat at night. Assuming coordination of the case. The point detected is 30 miles from Lampedusa, and 80 from Valletta. On the night between Monday and Tuesday 14 April, the commercial ro-ro ship Ivan, flying the Portuguese flag, reaches the dinghy in difficulty, but at the beginning of Tuesday morning, after having flanked the drifting boat for almost three hours, he receives instructions from the Maltese authorities to continue on his route, because help was arriving. Since then, for a whole day, no news. The Maltese government no longer declares anything about the rescue. Only a laconic “case is closed”. In the face of this silence, and under the pressure of appeals from parliamentarians and the mobilization of civil society, the Italian Authorities, with air and naval means of the Coast Guard, are finally looking for these people. On Tuesday 14 April, at 5.30 pm, a CP300 SAR of the Lampedusa Coast Guard finally comes out, assisted by a helicopter.

Nothing was known about this fourth boat until Wednesday 15 April in the afternoon, when the International Organization of Migration (IOM) had confirmation of a Libyan fishing boat off the port of Tripoli, waiting to land 47 people. On board five lifeless bodies, but, according to the testimonies of the survivors, seven other companions had already drowned at sea. The dead, after six days at sea without food or water and with waves over two meters high, will eventually result 12. European governments, and especially Malta and Italy, could have saved them at any time.

The most terrible of hypotheses has become reality. The fourth boat with about 55 people on board whose traces were lost was rejected in Libya, in hell, certainly with the collaboration of the Maltese Authorities, and also due to the delay of the Italian Government in starting the rescue operations despite the proximity to Lampedusa. For days the relief requests of these innocent men, women and children have simply been ignored. And then the “push-back” operation, inhuman and illegal rejection, operated with the complicity of the Maltese government and using a boat flying the Libyan flag on which there will be much to understand. The death of 12 people, some of them from thirst and starvation, others in a desperate attempt to swim to merchant ships, the torture that survivors will suffer, are a direct responsibility for border management policies by European governments.

From the outset, the commitment of Mediterranea, together with the other organizations of the European #CivilFleet, is to promptly reconstruct the events that have occurred and to drag all the culprits of this crime before the international courts. We want justice. And we won’t stop until we get it.

Our other main commitment, despite and even more because of the Coronavirus emergency and its effects, is to return to the sea as soon as possible on a monitoring, search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean. And we will not stop until our intervention continues to be needed.

News (EN)

Twelve Deaths and a Secret Push-Back to Libya – Alarm Phone

HOW MALTA AND EU AUTHORITIES LEFT PEOPLE TO DIE AT SEA AND RETURNED SURVIVORS TO WAR

Alarm Phone, in collaboration with Sea-Watch and Mediterranea

Twelve people have lost their lives due to European action and inaction in the Mediterranean Sea. Authorities in Malta, Italy, Libya, Portugal, Germany, as well as the EU border agency Frontex were informed about a group of 55 [eventually 63 people] in distress at sea but chose to let twelve of them die of thirst and drowning, while orchestrating the forced return of the survivors back to Libya, a place of war, torture, and rape.

As we will show in this report, and contrary to Malta’s claims, the boat had drifted within in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, not far from the Italian island of Lampedusa. All authorities have failed to intervene, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to dramatically breach the law of the sea as well as human rights and refugee conventions. Though foremost the Armed Forces of Malta, all these authorities hold responsibility for the death of twelve human beings and the suffering of dozens of others.

In the name of the victims and the survivors who are now locked away in the inhumane Tarik Al Sikka detention center in Tripoli, Libya, we hold these authorities to account for failing to intervene and rescue, as well as for proactively creating the conditions that allowed for this to occur. This case, as well as several other distress cases that the Alarm Phone has received, highlights once more the devastating effects of EU border policies on migrant lives. It is a case not only of inaction but of concerted efforts to prevent those in distress from reaching Europe, at all cost.

The Alarm Phone network, Sea-Watch and Mediterranea mobilised all their forces to prevent these deaths, in vain. We know that relatives and friends of the deceased will not get their loved ones back. And we know that those who are now again imprisoned in horrible camps in Libya will face cruelty and hardship. We tried but failed to mobilise rescue while all 63 people were still alive. We failed because European actors were set on letting them die.

In this report, we offer a detailed reconstruction of the distress case, showing clearly how it unfolded, and the ways in which Malta and other European authorities refused to rescue the people in distress. We have gathered evidence based on our direct exchanges with the people in distress at sea and their relatives, as well as testimonies of survivors after their forced return to Libya. We have collected data on movements of state and non-state assets at sea and in the air. We have a plethora of documents detailing our communication with the Armed Forces of Malta, the Italian MRCC, the so-called Libyan coastguards and other European authorities, who either refused to intervene or acted illegally. Given the wealth of information we have, we present merely some here, but more can be shared upon request.

SUMMARY OF FACTS 

In the night of 9 to 10 April 2020, about 55 people (later confirmed 63 people), including seven women and three children, fled Libya from Garabulli on a precarious rubber boat.

On Friday, 10 April, a Frontex aerial asset spotted three rubber boats with people on board in the Libyan SAR area, according to Frontex press statements released on 13 April to ANSA Rome (agency launch 16:14LT): “Respecting operational procedures and international laws – explains the Frontex spokeswoman – we immediately informed theMaritime Rescue Coordination Centres (Italy, Malta, Libya and Tunisia) of the exact location of the boats.”

In the night of 10 to 11 April, they reached out to Alarm Phone while in distress at sea. They said that they were embarking water and that they needed help urgently. After they shared their GPS position, which showed them in international waters (N 33°41.795′, E 013°34.0124′ received at 01:52 CEST, 11/04/2020), Alarm Phone informed relevant authorities in Malta, Italy, and Libya. Over the next hours, Alarm Phone remained in contact with the people in distress and passed new GPS positions and details of the distress situation to relevant authorities.

On Saturday, 11 April at 09:20 CEST, Alarm Phone finally reached the Libyan authorities on the phone, who stated: “The Libyan Coastguard now only does coordination work because of COVID-19, we can’t do any rescue action, but we are in contact with Italy and Malta.”

Alarm Phone kept in contact with the boat in distress. Several updated GPS positions were immediately shared with authorities. Nonetheless, the informed authorities refused to engage in, or coordinate, a rescue operation for the approximately 55 people in distress.

On Sunday, 12 April at 12:45 CEST, Alarm Phone received the position N34° 29.947′ E013° 37.803′ from the boat in distress, clearly showing it in Maltese SAR. At 14:05 CEST the people call again, asking desperately for help. After that, the contact to the people could not be re-established.

On Monday evening, 13 April, after contact with the boat had been lost for about 36 hours, and due to the increasing pressure from several actors (see distress case eventually rescued by Aita Mari), both the Italian and Maltese authorities organised air surveillance missions and finally the boat in distress was spotted again in the Maltese Search and Rescue zone at 23:45 CEST in position 35°01’N 013°06’E.

On Tuesday, 14 April, 00:21 CEST, Malta sent out a NAVTEX to all boats: “All ships transiting in the area to keep sharp lookout and assist if necessary.” The GPS position matched an estimated drifting pattern of the boat in distress with ~55 people on board. The NAVTEX, however, also stated (though in a misspelled way) that Malta would not be able to provide a place of safety.

Shortly after, the by-passing cargo ship IVAN stopped one mile away from the boat in distress, and Malta ordered them to stay at the scene and monitor the boat in distress until rescue would arrive. Due to high waves and the general adverse conditions at sea (at night and given the composition of the ship), IVAN was unable to rescue the people in distress, and also not ordered by Malta to do so . An air asset of the Armed Forces of Malta was on scene during the duration of the operation, giving orders to the IVAN and the arriving two boats.

According to testimonies gathered from the survivors, three people on the boat in distress jumped into the water to reach IVAN, and drowned. Four other people threw themselves into the sea out of desperation. In the words of a survivor: “We shouted for help and made signs. Three people tried to swim to this big boat as it started moving away. They drowned. We made signs to the aircraft with the phones and we held the baby up to show we were in distress. The aircraft saw us for sure, because it flashed us with a red light. Shortly after another boat came out of nowhere and picked us up”.

Around 05:00 CEST, a fishing vessel, and a second, yet unidentified vessel, arrived on scene and took the survivors on board, under coordination by the Armed Forces of Malta. The IVAN was ordered to leave the scene.

On Tuesday evening, the Maltese authorities told Alarm Phone that there were no more open SAR cases in the area, without providing information on the fate of this boat in distress. Italian authorities seemed to be unaware of the secret push-back, as they organised several air surveillance missions on Tuesday evening, without results.

On Wednesday morning, 15 April, Alarm Phone received the information that 56 people had been returned to Libya on board of the fishing boat. Among them, the bodies of 5 people who died during the journey due to dehydration and hunger. 7 people are missing. According to the survivors, the crew of the fishing vessel let them believe that they would be brought to safety in Europe. Instead, they were pushed back to Libya.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Maltese authorities publicly admitted they coordinated the operation.

***

The distress case has been known to the European authorities for six days, upon aerial sighting by a Frontex asset on April 10 (according to the agency’s press release of April 13). Since then, Malta, Italy and the EU actors with missions in the central Mediterranean Sea were aware of the situation, flagged as well by Alarm Phone in the night between April 10 and 11.

Notwithstanding the impossibility of intervention by the Libyan authorities, stated in a phone call with Alarm Phone in the morning of April 11, where the Libyan officer declared also to be in contact with Malta and Italy,  there has been no coordination and no related intervention to assist the people in distress for almost 72 hours of agony at sea, in violation of the International Law at Sea (i.e. point 3.1.9 SAR Convention, 1979). States’ obligation to ensure the safety of life at sea never fails, even if the SAR event occurs outside their region of competence (IMO Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea, par. 6.7).

According to the official Press Release of the Maltese Government, issued on April 15, Malta declared to have taken the late coordination of the SAR event by issuing a NAVTEX message in the night between April 13 and 14 , where it is specified that the country would not provide a Place of Safety, thus in violation of the mentioned legal framework.

By deciding not to proceed with a rescue and not to ensure the disembarkation in a place of safety, the Maltese government becomes responsible for having facilitated the illegal push-back of the people in distress from the Maltese SAR zone to Libya, in violation of art. 33 of the Geneva Convention, art. 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, art. 19 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.

Alarm Phone, in collaboration with Sea-Watch and Mediterranea

News (EN)

To our brothers and sisters of popular movements and organizations – Pope Francis

Dear Friends,

I often recall our previous meetings: two at the Vatican and one in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and I must tell you that this “souvenir” warms my heart. It brings me closer to you, and helps me re-live so many dialogues we had during those times. I think of all the beautiful projects that emerged from those conversations and took shape and have become reality. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, I think of you in a special way and wish to express my closeness to you.

In these days of great anxiety and hardship, many have used war-like metaphors to refer to the pandemic we are experiencing. If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalizing at a time when no one can save themselves alone. As I told you in our meetings, to me you are social poets because, from the forgotten peripheries where you live, you create admirable solutions for the most pressing problems afflicting the marginalized.

I know that you nearly never receive the recognition that you deserve, because you are truly invisible to the system. Market solutions do not reach the peripheries, and State protection is hardly visible there. Nor do you have the resources to substitute for its functioning. You are looked upon with suspicion when through community organization you try to move beyond philanthropy or when, instead of resigning and hoping to catch some crumbs that fall from the table of economic power, you claim your rights. You often feel rage and powerlessness at the sight of persistent inequalities and when any excuse at all is sufficient for maintaining those privileges. Nevertheless, you do not resign yourselves to complaining: you roll up your sleeves and keep working for your families, your communities, and the common good. Your resilience helps me, challenges me, and teaches me a great deal.

I think of all the people, especially women, who multiply loaves of bread in soup kitchens: two onions and a package of rice make up a delicious stew for hundreds of children. I think of the sick, I think of the elderly. They never appear in the news, nor do small farmers and their families who work hard to produce healthy food without destroying nature, without hoarding, without exploiting people’s needs. I want you to know that our Heavenly Father watches over you, values you, appreciates you, and supports you in your commitment.

How difficult it is to stay at home for those who live in tiny, ramshackle dwellings, or for the homeless! How difficult it is for migrants, those who are deprived of freedom, and those in rehabilitation from an addiction. You are there shoulder to shoulder with them, helping them to make things less difficult, less painful. I congratulate and thank you with all my heart.

My hope is that governments understand that technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind. Now more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put at the centre, united to heal, to care and to share.

I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization. You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard. Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you. Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time … and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable. This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.

Moreover, I urge you to reflect on “life after the pandemic,” for while this storm shall pass, its grave consequences are already being felt. You are not helpless. You have the culture, the method, and most of all, the wisdom that are kneaded with the leaven of feeling the suffering of others as your own. I want all of us to think about the project of integral human development that we long for and that is based on the central role and initiative of the people in all their diversity, as well as on universal access to those three Ts that you defend: Trabajo (work), Techo (housing), and Tierra (land and food) .

I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.

You are the indispensable builders of this change that can no longer be put off. Moreover, when you testify that to change is possible, your voice is authoritative. You have known crises and hardships … that you manage to transform — with modesty, dignity, commitment, hard work and solidarity — into a promise of life for your families and your communities.

Stand firm in your struggle and care for each other as brothers and sisters. I pray for you, I pray with you. I want to ask God our Father to bless you, to fill you with his love, and to defend you on this path, giving you the strength that keeps us standing tall and that never disappoints: hope. Please pray for me, because I need it too.

Fraternally,

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Vatican City, Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020

News (EN)

Letter to the European Council Commissioner for Human Rights of the European Council from the civil society rescue vessels

To the European Council Commissioner for Human Rights of the European Council

Re: Reporting of the decree dated 7th April 2020, issued by the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport in consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Health, concerning the refusal of POS (place of safety) to ships not flying the Italian flag, due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Dear Commissioner,

Médicins Sans Frontières, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Open Arms and Sea-Watch, all operating Search and Rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean Sea, turns to you in order to report that, with the interministerial decree of 7th April 2020, the Italian authorities have established that Italy will not grant a POS to people rescued at sea by ships that do not fly the Italian flag, due to the current health emergency.

The decree is based on the assumption that a possible landing on Italian soil would place an unsustainable burden on the national health system, itself already strained by the Covid 19 emergency,  thus exposing the population to further risk of contagion, and diverting the efforts of police forces, currently working to monitor compliance with rules about freedom of movement during lockdown.

We express great concern for the decisions taken, which appear to have neither logical nor empirical foundations. These decisions are largely discriminatory and completely disproportionate to the objectives referred to in the decree. They are also in clear contrast with international treaties and, in particular, with the Convention, although this very Convention is invoked in the decree.

It is impossible to understand how the existence of a current and concrete risk for public national safety can be inferred from a purely hypothetical assumption – the potential presence of cases of infection on board. It also does not seem acceptable that such a significant measure, capable of affecting the fundamental rights of individuals rescued at sea, guaranteed by Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention, can be taken on a purely preventive basis.

Indeed, in the event of disembarkation, the decree lists no impediments to the application of the same preventive protocols that must be applied to all citizens entering the country from abroad. These measures appear to be fully satisfactory of current requirements, and are compatible with the equally important demands for protection of the fundamental rights of rescued individuals.

We are equally surprised and concerned by the pointless separation made between ships flying the Italian flag and those flying foreign flags.

This distinction clearly has no relevance in terms of containing the risk of infection, and it just looks like the latest attempt to hinder the NGOs’ ships’ search and rescue operations, thus preventing the rescued refugees from accessing any international protection procedures in Italy. In addition, this distinction also creates an intolerable discrimination between rescuees and the rescuers.

In this regard, we wish to strongly denounce the treatment of the ship Alan Kurdi of German NGO Sea Eye, and the 150 refugees aboard it; who have been refused a POS by the Italian authorities, in compliance with the above mentioned flag-based principle. The 150 refugees aboard the Alan Kurdi are in a serious state of vulnerability; the group includes women and minors, victims of atrocious violence and serious systematic human rights violations in Libya, a country still torn apart by war, and utterly unequipped to face the current health emergency.

Such decisions, as well as the entire structure of the interministerial decree dated 7th April 2020, are therefore profoundly detrimental to the fundamental rights of the individuals rescued at sea.

Article 15 of the Convention specifically forbids — even in an emergency situation — to repeal the right to life; it also clearly states the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatmen. These very rights are currently highly at risk of not being granted to the individuals fleeing the war in Libya.

We now ask the Commissioner to intervene, within its competence, in order to clarify that the rights of the individuals rescued at sea must be guaranteed, regardless of whichever ship may have carried out the rescue operation. Above all, we ask the Commissioner to reiterate that, in this context, no exception or balancing is acceptable when identifying a POS.

Claudia Lodesani, President of MSF Italy

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Alessandra Sciurba, President of Mediterranea Saving Humans

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Johannes Bajer, President of Sea-Watch 

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Riccardo Gatti, President of Open Arms Italy

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News (EN)

NGOs comments on the Safe Port decree: “Saving all lives, on land or at sea, is possible and a moral obligation.”

The NGOs — Sea-Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Open Arms and Mediterranea Saving Humans — are urgently concerned that the Italian government is exploiting the current health crisis to close its ports to people rescued at sea. They are doing this by classifying all civilian search-and-rescue ships as foreign vessels.

The decree’s true objective is to stop rescue activities in the Mediterranean without providing for alternative means to save those fleeing civil unrest in Libya.

Italy has stripped its ports of “safe place” status as a European port. Italy has put itself on par

with countries at war, countries who do not respect human rights and countries where access to ports is denied arbitrarily.

It would have been possible to find numerous other solutions that could have reconciled the moral obligation to guarantee the health of everyone on land with rescuing lives at risk at sea. This type of obligation cannot put rescue ships on the same level of importance as with cruise ships.

During this time in which Italy requests and receives support and solidarity from international partners and NGOs, to actively fight the Covid-19 crisis— the Italian government should show the same solidarity to the vulnerable people who risk their lives at sea because they have no other alternative.

At the present time, none of the undersigned organizations of this bulletin is at sea with their

own vessels so as to conform to the preventative sanitary measures necessary to confront Covid-19. These NGOs are at present reorganizing their internal activities and operations as a consequence.

We are deeply aware of the crisis we are all living through. So deep is our commitment to helping in this tragic emergency, we have made all our resources and personnel available to the Italian healthcare system involved in fighting Covid-19. This fact is well known.

We are not at sea. However, together with 150 shipwreck survivors, among which was a pregnant woman, one of the humanitarian ships sailing under a foreign flag referred to in the decree is.

The current health crisis does not affect the need to find a dignified solution for Alan Kurdi as soon as possible.

In fact, the decree exploits the health crisis. It repeats the same strategy previously used, not long ago, to obstruct sea rescue. The decree does so at a difficult time, in which more than ever it is necessary to assume responsibility and comply with E.U. regulations regarding sea rescues.

This decree, as did the previous Safety Decree Bis, classifies the entry of foreign vessels which recue survivors from the central Mediterranean Sea as a threat. This classification is contrary to international norms and shifts responsibility to Libya or demanding disembarkation in faraway countries.

Throughout these difficult days, especially for those who continue to live and for those who have lost dear ones, empathy and solidarity with others have allowed all of us to remain strong. It is exactly in a moment such as this

that the suffering of citizens enduring a health crisis should not be transformed into the basis to deny support– in the form of a legal obligation– to those who, while not losing their ability to breathe in an intensive care unit, they are losing that capacity by drowning at sea.

All lives should be saved. All vulnerable people should be protected, whether on land or at sea. It is possible to do so— and it is our obligation.