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.