News (EN)

Mediterranea: the Court of Palermo orders the release of Mare Jonio. Our ship is finally free; the Safety Decrees have been invalidated.

Tuesday 4 February 2020.

The Civil Court of Palermo has granted the appeal lodged by Mediterranea Saving Humans against the impoundment of Mediterranea’s ship Mare Jonio. The authorities involved have been ordered to immediately release the vessel, which was seized on Sept. 3.

“The decision of the Civil Judge of Palermo restores the law. Mare Jonio is once again free after five months of illegal confiscation,” said Alessandra Sciurba, president of Mediterranea Saving Humans. “The charges against Commander Marrone and Mission Chief Casarini were already dismissed, and so this is another fundamental step towards the repeal of the Salvini Decrees.”

“This again reaffirms that our compass has always been the law and human rights,” Sciuba continued. “European governments, led by Italy, betrayed and dehumanized these refugees in the middle of the Mediterranean. This was political propaganda, played out with the bodies of thousands of men, women, and children. ”

“The current government,” she concluded, “has not had the courage to do politically what a court today has decreed to be the only right thing. Our ship is free, and now we want to go back to the sea as soon as possible, to save these war refugees from drowning or capture by the Libyan militias. This decision also saves us, as well as the other ships of the civil society, from toxic and criminal decisions such as renewing the agreement with Libya. But to carry on our mission, we need all the support from our ground crews. ”

Today, Mediterranea kicks off a special fundraising campaign to finance the next mission at sea after this forced five-month suspension.

News (EN)

February 2, 2017 – February 2, 2020. The horror of Libya and 3rd anniversary of the criminal Nation of Italy

Some things have certainly changed since the first time Mediterranea put an Italian ship at sea. Things have changed in the wake of every mission, at sea and on land.

First of all, an Italian government has fallen and a new one has taken charge, proclaiming – since the very first day – its willingness to act with discontinuity respect to the previous. The NGOs saving lives at sea no longer make the newspapers headlines, because the “war” against them has somewhat reduced its tones. While we are writing these lines, the “safe harbor” of Pozzallo has been assigned to the ship of Proactiva Open Arms, carrying 363 refugees and migrants. This time around the authorities will not stage the absurd show we used to see just few months ago: these saved migrants will not be prevented to enter the European waters, although, to get them to land we had to wait the outcome of slow redistribution negotiation between several European Countries, while instead the international rules prescribe the landing in the “shortest possible time” and unconditionally.

On many occasions, with the ship Mare Jonio, the sailboat Alex and other civil society ships, we have forced the application of the international laws and the law of the sea, during very long months in which we risked a lot and we had to pay a high price: seized ships, six digits fines, mission heads and commanders under investigation for serious offenses.

On January 27th, the Prosecutor of the Agrigento Court eventually filed the investigation against Pietro Marrone and Luca Casarini for the events of March 2019. That one was the first mission in which Mediterranea directly rescued people; our ship Mare Jonio entered the port of Lampedusa following the Italian Constitution – which prescribes that the international law is binding and always prevails – and not the orders of doubtful legitimacy issued by the national authorities. The 23 pages of this filing are a blunt acknowledgment of everything we have done this past year and a half: no unlawful conduct, uncontested and legitimate choices, fulfillment of the obligations foreseen by the laws. Since that March, many other ships have entered the ports after saving human lives, in the name of Principles and Laws so high that, in comparison, a hashtag or a tweet are worth nothing, even if typed by a Minister of the Interior. And for this reason, once politicians realized that they could not defeat our civilian fleets using the criminal law, they moved the battle on the level of political arbitrariness and the administrative law, transforming our ships in political hostages in the hands of the prefects. To date, our Mare Jonio and Alex, and the Eleonore of Lifeline, remain seized due to these measures, built as a revenge of those who used public institutions for their populistic battles.

If something has changed, then too many other things have not changed at all. Not only the seizure of our ships has not been revoked by the new ministers, who could have done that with a stroke of a pen. Above all, Italy continues to remain complicit, promoter and first financial supporter of crimes against humanity.

February 2nd marks the third anniversary of the Memorandum signed between the Italian government – at that time represented by Paolo Gentiloni – and Al Serraj, one of the leaders of the militias now at war in Libya. Already in 2017 this agreement was “invalid” – quoting the request for filing of the Agrigento prosecutor’s office – because “in contrast with an imperative rule of the international law”, the principle of “non-refoulement”, which requires not to bring anyone back to a place where his life is in danger and at risk of incurring in inhuman treatment.

Former Prime Minister Gentiloni agreed to sign that agreement, woven after months of strategic developed by his Minister of the Interior Marco Minniti, which has immediately condemned thousands of people to torture and hundreds of them to death, which has provided economic means and logistic help to disguised Libyan militiamen, who often coincided directly with traffickers and torturers – as in the case of Bija – to capture desperate people fleeing the horror of Libyan concentration camps at sea, and bringing them back.

As we have demonstrated during our defense against the accusations made against Pietro Marrone and Luca Casarini precisely for the rescue of March 2019, and as the Prosecutor has still affirmed in his request for filing, the Italian Navy ships in the Port of Tripoli “in reality seem the real operational command center” of the Libyans, effectively performing the functions of decision-making center of the so-called Libyan coast guard. We had denounced it from the council hall of the Municipality of Palermo on April 18, revealing the communications between the Italian and Libyan authorities. We have also denounced to the European Union, every time we have seen it with our own eyes, that airplanes of EU Countries guide Libyan patrol boats to catch  migrants and refugees in the middle of the Mediterranean.

The refoulement of migrants to Libya, under Italian and EU mandate and with Italian and European resources, is object of a case we have opened at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.  We describe there the details and the means of torture, sexual violence and executions that take place in Libya every day on women, children and men.

Yet the new Italian “government of discontinuity” has not had the courage to cease this Memorandum with Libya. It has been the choice of Minister Minniti and the Gentiloni government to sacrifice the dignity of human life, on February 2, 2017, in the name of a war against “illegal immigration”. It was their choice to inaugurate the political battle against NGOs in the Mediterranean, trying to eliminate uncomfortable witnesses of too many human rights violations.

To this date, it seems clear that the authorities of Italy and Malta alert only the Libyans when they detect a boat adrift. n case non-governmental ships arrive first on the spot, they are simply “tolerated”, and only as long as the people rescued are not “too many”.

In the meantime, Italy has not stopped even for a moment to be on the brink of a moral abyss, built on a poisonous wave of hatred and racism, which – although opposed by extraordinary rallies such as those of the Sardines, and by many large and small actions of a civil society that does not give up – today sees 15% of the citizens of this country to deny even the Holocaust.

Ceasing the agreements with Libya is not an optional political strategy, it is a necessary act to save all of us from that moral abyss. Immediately after we will need to convince the EU to establish humanitarian corridors for people under the bombs. Then to renegotiate European migration policies.

Until then, we will live in a country that is accomplice of the criminals, and that every day obliges thousands of people to suffer a violence comparable to that inflicted on entire populations in the darkest years of European history.

We saw with our own eyes the signs of violence on migrants bodies, the numbers stamped on the chest of the newborns, the eyes in terror of the people we were saving from the Libyan militias, furious to have arrived after us and for not being able to take their cut of beef for the day.

We risked everything we had, with our little forces, to save those people, to save us with them. But if a ship has done a lot, it is now up to the entire Country to rise and regain its dignity.

Alessandra Sciurba 

President, Mediterranea Saving Humans

News (EN)

Mediterranea Saving Humans has become an Association, members can now subscribe

Mediterranea Saving Humans has just concluded its general assembly – held at the Ecomuseo del Mare of Palermo on  January 25 and 26 – and it has eventually established itself as an Association. It will now be opened to personal memberships that will join its land and sea crews. 

This inevitable transition from a platform of civil society to a structured Association responds to the need of consolidating our project, which has grown deep roots throughout Italy, Europe and the United States. We want to allow everyone’s participation and offering the most suitable organization to deploy the incredible energies of thousands of people who, starting from our birth in October 2018, supported the missions of monitoring and denouncing violations of human rights in the central Mediterranean, and sailed land routes to focus on having respect for the life of every person, which is what we call humanity.

Mediterranea has grown as a large laboratory of language and action resilience, and it became what it is thanks to every person who has joined and supported it. We are now ready to start a new journey.

The newly formed board of directors has chosen Alessandra Sciurba as president of the Association and Maso Notarianni as vice president. The board includes some of the land and sea crews and civil society individuals that contributed from the very first day to the development of Mediterranea Saving Humans:  Arci, Emmaus, Ya Basta from Bologna, Esc from Rome, Moltivolti from Palermo. The executive board members are Claudio Arestivo, Luca Casarini, Francesca Chiavacci, Fabiana Cumia, Don Mattia Ferrari, Franco Monnicchi, Domenico Mucignat, Cecilia Strada, Ada Talarico, Nicola Teresi, Giuliana Visco.

The first goal is now to return as soon as possible to the Central Mediterranean, where civil society ships are courageously continuing to operate, but where hundreds of women, men and children fleeing the war every week lose their lives, or are captured by the militia of the so-called Libyan coastguard and are brought back to the hell of bombs and torture camps.

Our ships, Mare Jonio and Alex & Co., are still being held as political hostages at the port of Licata, seized for having rescued 98 and 59 people in the months of August and July 2019. The present Italian government, which could decide with a simple stroke of a pen to release them, chose not to do it. Despite these difficulties, Mediterranea does not stop and calls up its sea and land crews to return to save people at sea to save us all. The instructions on how to become members will be published in the next few days.

News (EN)

Closing investigation into Luca Casarini and Pietro Marrone: only the perverse logic of some politicians has transformed sea rescue into a potential crime.

“Mare Jonio” case on March 2019, Prosecutor’s office asks to close the investigation, dismissing all charges against HoM Casarini and Cpt. Marrone.

Deputy public prosecutor in Agrigento (Sicily) dr. Salvatore Vella and Adjunct public prosecutor dr. Cecilia Baravelli finally asked the Judge for Preliminary Investigations to clear of all charges against mr. Luca Casarini and mr. Pietro Marrone, respectively Head of Mission and Master of “Mare Jonio”, MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans’ ship. The two were under investigation for aiding and abetting illegal immigration and for disobeying an order given by a military ship.

In fact, after the rescue of 50 shipwrecked persons operated in International waters off Libyan shores on 18th March 2019, mr. Marrone, the Mare Jonio’s Master, didn’t turn off ship’s engines when ordered to do so by the Guardia di Finanza patrol vessel “Paolini”, which tryed to stop the ship off Italian territorial waters 13 miles from the coasts of Lampedusa. And both mr. Casarini and Marrone decided instead to enter into island’s port to disembark safely all people on board.

 “Only the perverse logic of some politicians has transformed sea rescue into a potential crime. But we continue to believe that it is those who let women, men and children die at sea or in Libyan camps who are committing crimes against humanity”,

Luca Casarini and Pietro Marrone commented on the request for their acquittal by the Prosecutor of Agrigento, and added: “We welcome the news with satisfaction, although we had no doubt it would come. In last months we have continued to accomplish our duties as Master and Head of mission in the sea rescue operations of MEDITERRANEA and we are now confidently waiting for the full acquittal of the other two commanders and heads of mission of our organisation, who are still under investigation for the same reason in two different cases.”

“Now we are just waiting to be allowed back at sea, to do what’s right. Our ships are still under confiscation, and we need to put an end to this shameful situation” – concluded mr. Casarini and Marrone.

Licata, 28th January 2020

News (EN)

Mass escape, forced returns and Civil Fleet solidarity off the coast of Libya, 9-12 January 2020

Photo: Maurice Stierl

January 13, 2020

Over merely four days last week, 9-12 January, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 22 boats in distress escaping from Libya, carrying about 1,150 people. About 400 people who had reached out to us were rescued to Europe. Overall, about 1,500 people were trying to escape Libya over these four days, and 503 of them succeeded. 237 people on five separate boats in distress were rescued by the amazing efforts of NGO crews and through the cooperation of the Civil Fleet: Sea Watch 3, Moonbird, Open Arms, and Alarm Phone. 119 people are currently on the Sea Watch 3, 118 on the Open Arms. 266 people were rescued by the Armed Forced of Malta who were alerted by the Alarm Phone. We know of approximately 97 people who arrived in Italy autonomously. At the same time, about 700 of the people who reached out to the Alarm Phone were intercepted by the so-called Libyan coastguards and forced back to Libya. We also learned of a shipwreck – according to the Libyan authorities the 65 people on board survived but we cannot verify whether this is true.

Repeatedly, we informed relevant authorities to the severe distress of several boats off the Libyan coast but repeatedly they did not act quickly or adequately. For example, on Friday, we were alerted by two boats in distress within the Maltese Search and Rescue zone with 50 and 54 people on board. We informed both Sea Watch 3 and Maltese authorities. According to the testimonies of the people in distress and of the Sea Watch 3 crew, vessels of the Armed Forces Malta were on scene, monitoring at least one of the boats in distress without rescuing the people, putting their lives in danger. They engaged in a rescue operation only under the pressure of Sea Watch 3 (https://twitter.com/seawatch_intl/status/1215982102535200771?s=20).

For several distress cases, we do not know what happened to the boats and their precarious passengers. We fear that many were intercepted by Europe’s allies, the so-called Libyan coastguard. Instead of being brought to safety, they were returned to the violence and hardship of Libyan torture camps they were seeking to escape from. We also fear that lives have been lost but that their disappearance will remain hidden.

The Alarm Phone was informed of yet another privatised pushback. A merchant vessel illegally returned 64 people to Libya after rescuing them near the Bouri Oil Platform. Upon arrival in Tripoli, some of the 64 people refused to disembark and, according to the testimonies of those who called the Alarm Phone in a state of terror, one person was shot by the Libyan authorities and his body was thrown into the sea (https://twitter.com/alarm_phone/status/1216042802699739136?s=20).

With the escalation of conflicts in Libya, we can expect that even more people will try to flee in order to seek asylum in Europe over the coming weeks: will they all have to choose between the unbearable violence of war and torture camps or the invisible violence of the sea and European deterrence efforts there? How many lives will it take, before Europe creates safe passages for people seeking safety and freedom?

Much of the violence off the coast of Libya over the past days would have remained invisible without the presence of the Civil Fleet. Besides creating safer passages to Europe and rescuing hundreds, the rescue NGOs, Moonbird and the Alarm Phone play a crucial role in counter-surveilling the Mediterranean, monitoring the authorities’ anti-migrant deterrence efforts and mass human rights violations at the sea borders.

WatchTheMed Alarm Phone

News (EN)

SAR NGOs to Lamorgese: “International law is the only possible Code of Conduct. Open dialogue if common goal to save lives”

22 November 2019 – Three months after the settlement of the new Italian government, organizations engaged in search and rescue activities at sea address Italian authorities and in particular the Minister of the Interior to reaffirm the urgent need to restore international law in the central Mediterranean and address the dramatic humanitarian impact of current policies. NGOs also affirmed they are willing to continue a dialogue with the common objective of saving life at sea, but not if the only aim is to control humanitarian vessels, which are not the problem but part of the solution.

On anticipations by the Minister around a new regulation for organisations at sea, Doctors Without Borders, Mediterranean, Open Arms and Sea Watch declare that international law is the only possible “Code of Conduct”, already sufficient and in force. They also reaffirm the need to put it at the centre of every decision on search and rescue so it is followed by all the actors involved, starting from the institutional ones, as it was always done by the organizations at sea for every rescue operation.

“We appreciated steps forward in the dialogue and European coordination, but real solutions are urgently needed. Concentrating the attention on the humanitarian ships, which have always respected the laws of the sea and represent a minimal part of arrivals, is only a distraction from the problem. The common goal must be to stop deaths and suffering, according to the obligations of international law that everyone, starting from the States, must respect” the organizations say. “No human being should risk his life at sea relying on criminal networks to escape persecution and violence. We would be happy to no longer have to carry out our humanitarian work in the Mediterranean, but we will continue to do so as long as it will be necessary.”

The first point addressed by organisations is the need to ensure effective coordination of search and rescue operations, including a coordinated disembarkation mechanism at European level that guarantees the timely indication of a near safe port and the reconstitution of a governative search and rescue capacity with resources deployed by Italy and all member states. They also ask to stop supporting Libyan authorities, with which the Italian government renewed a Memorandum of Understanding which has as a direct consequence the interception at sea of thousands of fleeing people who are systematically brought back in a country at war and in the inhumane conditions of detention centres, in violation of international law.

Finally they confirm the urgency to drastically modify the security decrees, still in force with all their consequences – including the seizures that are stranding at port four humanitarian ships, which the government could immediately free and let them back to saving lives – and the need to overcome once and for all the criminalizing approach, denied by all the judicial investigations, of the work of non-governmental organizations at sea.

Despite the reopening of the dialogue with organizations, rescues of humanitarian vessels are still subject to uncertainties and suspicion, while the concession of a port of safety remains conditioned to agreements for redistribution negotiated case by case, moreover in a season that makes standoffs at sea ​​even more painful for the health and safety of rescued people and crews. Meanwhile the shipwrecks continue: at least 743 people died this year in the central Mediterranean, thousands were intercepted and returned to Libya.

News (EN)

Fourth Meeting of the Palermo Charter Platform Process in Bologna, 28-29 November 2019

In Bologna, a group of rescue NGOs, civil society organisations, activists, and representatives of European municipalities came together between 28-29 November 2019 to strengthen our work in the Mediterranean Sea and the transnational collaboration between solidarity cities in Europe. Our network emerged in Palermo in 2018 and in the spirit of the Charter of Palermo, with its central demand for the right to mobility. Our slogan continues to be: “From the Sea to the Cities!”

This was the fourth meeting of the Palermo Charter Platform Process. We fight the ongoing violence produced by the European border regime, seek to foster corridors of solidarity for migrants to reach their desired destinations, and take part in the building of welcoming cities of sanctuary all over Europe.

After Palermo, Naples and Barcelona, we gathered this time in Bologna, one of the cities where the rescue organisation and movement Mediterranea was born in 2018 and where thousands currently take to the street to fight against Salvini and his Lega Nord.

While we met, hundreds of people tried to escape from Libya by boat and many were intercepted by Libyan militias who are funded, equipped and trained by European member states and institutions. Precarious migration across the Mediterranean Sea continues, even during the winter months. Three migrant boats that reached out to the Alarm Phone were rescued by Sea-Eye and SOS Mediterranée, showing once more how crucial the work of the civil fleet is.

Mediterranea, Alarm Phone, Welcome to Europe, Sea-Watch, Open Arms, Iuventa10/Solidarity at Sea, Civilfleet, Seebrücke, borderline-europe, Inura, and the representatives of several European cities and municipalities

News (EN)

The deal signed in Malta is disingenuous

Joint press release of the Palermo Charter Platform Process on the results of the EU Summit of Home Affairs Ministers on 23 September in Malta and the consequent negotiations on 8 October in Luxembourg

10/09/2019

The Malta Agreement (“agreement on temporary reception and distribution mechanism”) is not a hard-won solution, but nothing more than a partial emergency relief. We, civil society initiatives and networks, mayors of European cities and search and rescue (SAR) NGOs, demand a real solution that is adequate to the scale of the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea.

Over 15.000 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea in the last five years. “Every single person is one too many,” says Alessandra Sciurba from Mediterranea Saving Humans. “When we receive distress calls from people on boats, they fear two things: to drown and to be returned to Libya. The outsourcing of EU border control to Libyan forces and mass interceptions at sea have to stop, “ demands Maurice Stierl from WatchTheMed Alarm Phone. “ The establishment of an operational and sustainable European rescue mission is absolutely necessary in order to prevent deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. Sadly, it is still missing in the Malta agreement”, adds Sciurba.

The deal signed in Malta is disingenuous, as it ignores the fact that many civil rescue ships are either blocked or confiscated by state authorities. Additionally, it does not address the situation into which merchant ships are forced. “ Future relocation mechanisms must take them into account in order to prevent further cases of non-assistance and illegal push backs to Libya. Who is going to be responsible for setting up a rescue mission that is proportional to the scope of the crisis? Frankly, the proposed measures fall short of our mildest expectations.” admits Oliver Kulikowski from Sea-Watch. The temporary agreement on disembarkation does not in any way address the main cause of flight – the Libyan detention camps. The EU refuses, time and again, to come up with any viable solution for the people caught in the crossfire of the Libyan civil war. “The collaboration between the EU and the criminal Libyan Coast Guard results in illegal push-backs banned by international law. This is not a solution: it makes the unbearable situation of the refugees trapped in Libya even worse,” claims Alina Lyapina from the German movement Seebruecke. “We demand an immediate and direct evacuation of all refugees from the Libyan detention camps to Europe. Anything less than that is unacceptable to us,” she continues.

We emphasize that the large reception capacities of European cities must be taken into account. In Germany alone, over 100 cities and municipalities are willing to take in refugees. “For us, saving lives at sea or, really, anywhere is not simply an act of goodwill. Providing aid to those in need is an integral part of the society we want to live in, that is based on transnational solidarity, universal human rights, acceptance and global openness,” declares Stephan Neher, Mayor of the German city of Rottenburg on Neckar.

The awful tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea and in Moria can be avoided in a simple way: we call on the EU states to remove all restrictions on civil society and cities’ initiatives on migration policy. We want to act responsibly, welcome the rescued and treat them with dignity and respect. “If they seek a new home, we are ready to offer them one – in our communities. They can be Neapolitans, Palermitans, Berliners or Barcelonians if they want to.” concludes Luigi de Magistris, Mayor of Naples.

Contacts:

Alessandra Sciurba, MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans: [email protected] ,
Phone: +393928394572

Maurice Stierl, WatchTheMed ALARM PHONE: [email protected] ,
Phone: +491636926037

Oliver Kulikowski, SEA-WATCH: [email protected] ,
Phone: +4915792354723

Alina Lyapina, SEEBRUECKE: [email protected] ,
Phone: +4915750786736

Stephan Neher: [email protected]urg.de ,
Phone: (+49)07472/165-201

Laura Marmorale, City of Naples: [email protected] ,
Phone: +393383031201

What is Palermo Charter Platform Process?

We are humanitarian and search and rescue (SAR) NGOs, civil society organisations and activist groups, including Sea-Watch,Alarm Phone, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Seebrücke, Aita Mari, Jugend Rettet, Borderline Europe, Inura, Open Arms and Welcome to Europe, as well as representatives of several European cities and municipalities, such as Naples, Barcelona and Palermo, united under the slogan “From the Sea to the Cities!” Our network was born in Palermo in 2018 in the spirit of the Charter of Palermo, with its central demand for the right to mobility. We demand the immediate release of all civil SAR ships, an end to the criminalization of sea rescue and solidarity, an immediate stop to the EU collaboration with Libya and other “third countries” involved in severe human rights violations. Instead, we advocate for “Corridors of Solidarity” – the relocation and distribution of refugees and migrants to the countries of their desired destination – while drawing inspiration from the work of solidarity and sanctuary cities all over Europe.

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Common position on the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council

With the present document, the signing non-governmental-organisations involved in search-and-rescue activities in the Mediterranean Sea, jointly share the following considerations and recommendations to the JHA Ministers reuniting in Luxembourg to follow up to the mini-summit of 23 September held in Malta. The question of a fair and human needs-based relocation mechanism remains unresolved. In recent months there have been repeated stand-offs of up to 19 days1 until a number of volunteering EU Member States (MS) have agreed on ad-hoc distribution schemes of relocation for the people rescued in the Central Mediterranean Sea. This practice contradicts international maritime and human rights law, in particular with regards to the obligation set by the legal framework applicable to search and rescue for bringing shipwrecked people to a “Place of Safety” (PoS)2 without any delay.3

Establishing a relocation mechanism for people rescued at sea by private ships is secondary to the wider problem of the ongoing severe violations of international human rights law occurring in the Mediterranean area against people who migrate. These violations are above all put in place through the cooperation of the EU Member States with third countries such as Libya, a country afflicted by a civil war, in which the so-called authorities are in strict connection with traffickers of human beings, and tortures and inhuman and degrading treatments are usually perpetrated against foreigners, as several Institutional reports denounced in details in last years. We reaffirm that the opening of legal entry channels from third countries, and humanitarian corridors from countries at war, constitutes the only real way to fight and dismantle smuggler networks in the Central Mediterranean.

Moreover, the lack of comprehensive and reliable figures and follow-up on the distribution of disembarked persons results in nontransparent relocation practices, as countries may often receive fewer people than originally pledged.4 Furthermore, current ad hoc mechanisms with little accountability are maintaining unequal treatment with regards to responsibility-sharing among the EU MS. In order to meet these concerns, the signing organisations wish to share a set of guidelines in light of the Council of JHA Ministers and having as reference the Joint Declaration of 23 September 2019 resulting from the mini-summit in Malta.

1. Temporary relocation as an accompanying measure

A temporary relocation mechanism does not replace a longterm solution and would provide only a fragile and illusory solution for the humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean Sea. A lasting solution requires a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), including the Dublin Regulation and shall rest upon a solidarity principle, such as enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The European Council is still blocking the reform of Dublin III, ignoring a proposal by the European Parliament which has already been submitted in 2017. We welcome the reference made at point 15 of the Joint Declaration about the commitment “to advance on the reform of the Common European Asylum System on the basis of an initiative of the Commission”, nonetheless stressing the need to consider the power of initiative of the European Parliament to the matter.

We notice as well that the project outlined in the Joint Declaration includes clauses which make it very much dependent on unclear factors and leaves too much discretion to individual member states. In particular, point 15 of the Declaration stresses that “this mechanism as a pilot project shall be valid for a period of not less than six months and may be renewed subject to the agreement of the parties concerned or terminated in the case of misuse by third parties”, where it is unclear what is meant by “misuse”, and concludes adding that “should the number of relocated persons within these 6 months substantially rise the participating Member States will immediately come together for consultation. During the consultations, the entire mechanism might be suspended”. We must highlight how these conditions and variables weaken the whole concept by potentially reducing the approach, once again to an ad hoc mechanism.

2. Specific protection and human needs-oriented criteria for relocation in full compliance with international human rights law, refugee law, and EU asylum law

Any relocation scheme must at the same time ensure that countries of destination are defined by taking into account individual needs and connections such as family, community and social links conceived in a broad sense, as well as individual vulnerabilities and vulnerable groups including victims of violence, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, potential victims of trafficking and (sexual) exploitation in Europe but also that the relocation happens as swift as possible without avoidable delay. Furthermore, a relocation mechanism has to ensure that the agreement does not leave a gap of responsibility, leaving individuals in a bureaucratic grey area in which no MS is taking responsibility for their applications and interested persons don‘t have access to legal remedies.

3. No pre-screenings

Pre-relocation selection practices such as pre-screenings of individuals by MS harm the principle of non-discrimination of refugees as laid down in international law – the selection of persons eligible for relocation means in practice that the persons concerned may be unable to access the rights and benefits they are entitled to under the EU asylum acquis. Individuals must promptly be granted access to an asylum procedure, undergo vulnerability and best interests assessments, and benefit from the right to remain on the territory, as well as the right to adequate reception conditions such as accommodation and health care. In addition, pre-screenings risk the proliferation of so-called hotspots, as the country of arrival would need to create centres for such pre-screenings to take place in. The hotspot facilities, already existing in Italy, cannot guarantee a sufficient and detailed examination of the individual cases. Moreover, hotspots must not be used for the systematic detention of newly arrived foreign citizens and these have to have access to legal and social support for all the duration of relocation procedures, avoiding the risk of being isolated from guarantees deriving from the intervention of independent organizations and civil society.

Relocation should be automatic/immediate and should include all, not just people who expressed explicitly the will to seek asylum, and therefore should include all people disembarked in all European States, included Spain and Greece.

4. No ports’ rotation mechanism

A rotation mechanism, which means that civil rescue ships are assigned different European ports as Place of Safety (PoS) after rescue operations, is not justifiable from a maritime and humanitarian point of view. In order to make sure that the rescued persons are being disembarked as soon as possible, as defined in international law, only safe ports in immediate proximity can be considered. Furthermore, disembarking in a more distant port entails unnecessary and avoidable risks for the rescued persons on board. These include the medical situation, weather conditions, and supply shortage. Additionally, it means a longer absence of rescue capacities in the Central Mediterranean. With a fair and functional relocation mechanism, a rotation mechanism would not be necessary.

Point 1 of the Declaration says: “In case of a disproportionate migratory pressure in a participating State, calculated with reference to limitations in reception capacities, or a high number of applications for international protection, an alternative place of safety shall be proposed on a voluntary basis.” This seems to suggest that the agreed relocation mechanism can be “broken” by a voluntary, alternative offer of a PoS by any member state, which is not justifiable from a maritime and humanitarian point of view. All rescued persons have to be disembarked “without any delay”, meaning in the closest PoS.

The Declaration continues stating that: “Persons rescued by stateowned vessels shall be disembarked in the territory of their flag State.” The criteria for disembarkation cannot be the flag of the ship but the identification of a suitable PoS, in accordance to the guidelines outlining its definition. This approach is dangerous as it justifies disembarkation in Libya by Libyan Coast Guard (LYCG) assets or in other countries that do not qualify as PoS, in breach of maritime and human rights law

5. Integration of merchant vessels

The temporary relocation agreement should not only consider people rescued by NGO vessels but also include those rescued by merchant and state vessels as well as refugee boats that arrive on their own. If swift disembarkation was guaranteed in every rescue case, this would impede further cases of non-assistance and illegal push-backs of rescued people to Libya.

6. Integration of Municipalities

The EU member states should not continue to ignore and block the receptiveness of their populations. Until October 2019, more than 100 cities across Europe, including in Germany, Spain, and Italy, have declared themselves as “Safe Harbors” or have directly declared their ports open to receive rescued people, stating that they would accept more individuals than officially allocated. A relocation agreement should allow endorsement and commitments from cities and civil society organisations. For that, it is absolutely necessary to design a new, fasttrack, tangible and practical reception and relocation scheme at the European level. Any viable reform of the EU asylum and migration system will have to include the communal perspective on migration and the municipal level of government.

7. Sanction mechanism for non-adhering countries.

Point 3 of the agreement foresees the calling on the other EU and the Schengen Member States to participate in this mechanism. It should be possible only with a sanction mechanism for non-adhering countries.

8. Debunking the “pull factor” argument

Point 6 of the agreement put under discussion the presence of a rescue’s mechanism as a pull factor. “Reconfirm that this temporary mechanism should not open new irregular pathways to European shores and shall avoid the creation of new pull factors”. Several studies put in evidence that there is no correlation between the presence of NGOs in the Mediterranean Sea and departures from the Libyan coasts. The most recent analysis of ISPI (Institute for International Political Studies) disproves the pull factor theory to be related to the presence of NGOs in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, also when the presence of the NGO ships was low, the arrivals on the Italian coasts by boat from Libya or Tunisia were high. https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/fact-checking-migrazioni-2018-20415

People mostly leave because of bad and dangerous living conditions in their Countries of Origin and they are willing to face the risks of crossing the sea. Rescue assets are not the cause of migration and are there to rather cure the symptoms.
The first part of paragraph 95 also provides indications for the position of the vessels. Please note that the AIS (automated information system) is mandatory for commercial ships and passenger ships making international journeys with a gross weight of more than 300 tonnes, as predicted by the IMO as early as 2004. The clarification of its use, therefore, seems superfluous since the named vessels are required to have it operational. The document stresses “not to send light signals or any other form of communication to facilitate the departure and embarkation of vessels carrying migrants from African shores”. Such statements have no empirical basis and are not related to any official document but take up statements and allegations that have circulated through the media.

9. Review engagement with and support to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard

The point 9 of the agreement foresees to do not “obstruct the Search and Rescue operations by official Coast Guard vessels, including the Libyan Coast Guard, and to provide for specific measures to safeguard the security of migrants and operators”.

Since the most recent agreement among Italy and Libyan Governments6, the role of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard was often moot. Several investigations put in evidence the unclear composition of the LYCG staff and their real intentions.

The latest report of UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) expresses “serious concerns continue with regard to the transfer of migrants rescued or intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard to unofficial detention centres in Khums. Hundreds of rescued migrants who were reported to have been sent to detention centres were later listed as missing, and it is believed that they may have been trafficked or sold to smugglers, while others disappeared on their way to nearby Suq al-Khamis.” https://unsmil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/sg_report_on_unsmil_s_2019_628e.pdf

The article below outlines how, conversely to the implications in the Joint Declaration, several NGOs’ operations have been hindered by interventions of the so-called LYCG.The sources show how as of today a competent RCC is hardly identifiable in Libya due to the lack of substantial basic requirements outlined in the SAR-Conventions. Moreover, the so-called LYCG is not able to cover a SAR area of the present dimension, thus rendering any cooperation impossible. Some single rare occasions show evidence of appropriate operative measures for preserving life at sea. Any cooperation of NGOs with the so-called LYCG is only possible if the safety of life at sea is guaranteed under all circumstances, in that respect the signatory NGOs refrain from engaging in any type of coordination and cooperation that leads to facilitating illegal pushbacks to Libya. http://www.vita.it/it/article/2017/11/08/mediterraneo-tutti-gli-attacchi-della-guardia-costiera-libica-al- le-ong/145042/

10. Safe and legal routes as priority in the cooperation with third countries

Point 12 of the Declaration stresses to “Continue and deepen our cooperation with countries of origin and transit to fight illegal migration, migrant smuggling networks, and related criminal activity and human trafficking, and to enhance incentives for returns”. There is no reference to the necessary creation of safe and legal routes for migration, also as the first measure to counter trafficking of human beings. Priority should be given to the evacuation of Libya through the immediate creation of humanitarian corridors.

Any funding directed at facilitating push-backs, arbitrary and unlimited detention and human rights violations must be suspended. Cooperation with third countries and related funding should be subjected to oversight by human rights monitoring bodies and to an accountability system. Point 14 of the Declaration sets a commitment “to enhancing the capacities of coast guards of southern Mediterranean third countries and to encouraging UNHCR and IOM to support disembarkation modalities in full respect of human rights in those countries.” It must be clear that it is not the presence of UN agencies that defines a Place of Safety. A Place of Safety must be selected exclusively based on the criteria set by maritime law and taking into consideration the applicable human rights framework. The concluding remark “In full respect of human rights in those countries” de facto excludes all North African countries at the present stage as to guarantee the safety and protection of the people disembarked as a result of rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea.

11. Review rules of engagement of aerial surveillance and complement with naval assets

Point 13 of the Declaration calls for “Enhanc(ing) EU led aerial surveillance in the southern Mediterranean in order to ensure that migrant boats are detected early with a view to fight migrant smuggling networks, humantrafficking, and related criminal activity and minimizing the risk of loss of life at sea. Enhance the EU efforts being made by the competent authorities in this regard and calls on the Member States to allocate assets and resources to any such aerial operations”. Aerial surveillance has proven to be insufficient to prevent loss of life at sea. We call for resuming the presence of naval assets within the recently extended EUNAVFORMED operation. In light of a clear gap in rescue capacity, EU Member States should consider including EU naval assets with a dedicated SAR mandate. This would not only prevent loss of life at sea but would as well avoid overburdening other military assets in the Mediterranean Sea with tasks they’re not prepared for.For what concerns aerial missions specifically, rules of engagement should be reviewed as to not facilitate illegal push-backs and prevent people to reach Europe at all costs. We have witnessed unjustifiable delays in interventions on distress cases as a result of insisting on delegating the responsibility to the Libyan authorities, also when not responsive. An accessible accountability system should be put in place to ensure transparency of aerial operations and respect of the applicable maritime and human rights legal framework when it comes to boats in distress at sea.

***
Proposals:

The text has a sixmonthly value, during this period the measures prepared will be tested. Ahead of its ratification and the involvement of other European countries, it asks whether:

  • The discussion has been planned for the development of alternative European government instruments for rescue at sea, to prevent insecure journeys in which thousands of people die.7 It is thought, for example, that the resettlement system developed by the UNHCR was strengthened directly from Libya to Italy.8 Or to the system of humanitarian corridors which since 2015, under Article 25 of EC Regulation 810/2009, which grants Schengen countries the opportunity to issue humanitarian visas valid for their territory.
  • The action of the Sofia mission, renewed until 2020, with the introduction of naval and not only air and non-aircraft resources, will be increased.

 

1 On 21 August 2019, the disembarkation of 83 rescued persons from the Open Arms took place a er 19 days. The Ocean Viking of SOS MEDITER-RANEE also had to wait 14 days for a safe harbour and disembarked 365 rescued people on 23 August 2019
2 Art.98 UNCLOS, SAR Convention 1979, Annex, Chapter 1, Para 1.3.2
3 Recommended by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – Reso-lution MSC.167(78), Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea, points 6.3, 6.20
4 In July 2018, the German Minister of the Interior announced that Germa-ny would accept 565 people rescued from distress at sea. Of these, only 225 people have been relocated so far. A er the Malta Summit, Seehofer stressed that the relocation quota depends on how many EU member states will accede to the agreement on 8 October 2019 in Luxembourg.
5 Require all vessels engaged in rescue operations, in particular, to comply with instructions given by the competent Rescue Coordination Centre, not to turn off on-board transponders, automated information system (AIS) not to send light signals or any other form of communication to facilitate the departure and embarkation of vessels carrying migrants from African shores.
6 Drafted and signed in Rome on 2 February 2017 in two original copies, each in Arabic and Italian.http://www.governo.it/sites/governo.it/files/Libia.pdf
7 According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from 1 January to 3 October 2019, 1,041 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean.
8 As a result of this evacuation, the UNHCR helped 1,474 vulnerable refugees leave Libya in 2019, of which 710 were accompanied to Niger, 393 to Italy and 371 who were resettled to other countries in Europe and Canada.

News (EN)

De-Confiscation of all Rescue Ships NOW

In light of today’s meeting in Malta where five EU interior ministers convene to discuss a relocation quota for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, we issue this collective statement to demand the immediate release of all NGO rescue ships:

The EU border regime blocks all safe legal passages and forces refugees and migrants to move on hidden routes and travel on unseaworthy boats. Shame on you.

The EU is unwilling to organise a proper sea-rescue program for those affected by their policies. Instead, illegal push/pull-back collaboration between aerial assets of the EU and Libyan forces is a daily practice. Shame on you.

When individuals and organisations from the civil society intervene to rescue lives at sea, the EU and its member states criminalise them. While people are dying and drowning, the EU and its member states keep life-saving rescue ships confiscated. Shame on you.

We demand:

— Immediate de-confiscation of all civil rescue ships in Italy!

— Immediate end to the EU collaboration with Libyan forces!

— No continued efforts to criminalise sea rescue!

— Open harbours in Italy and Malta, immediate disembarkation after rescue!

— Quick relocation and distribution of refugees and migrants according to their wished destination countries and particularly in collaboration with solidarity and sanctuary cities all over Europe!

Sea Watch, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Welcome to Europe-Italy, Borderline-Europe, INURA, Ajuntament de Barcelona-Global Justice Department and WatchTheMed Alarm Phone