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.
President, Mediterranea Saving Humans