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,

page4image19769712

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

pastedGraphic_1.png

Alessandra Sciurba, President of Mediterranea Saving Humans

pastedGraphic_2.png

Johannes Bajer, President of Sea-Watch 

pastedGraphic_3.png

Riccardo Gatti, President of Open Arms Italy

pastedGraphic_4.png

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.

News (EN)

A new EU mission in the Mediterranean in violation of human rights

The good news is that even in times of coronavirus, the European Council has not stopped working. The other good news is that, upon indication of the UN Security Council, it is focusing its work on implementing measures that can contribute to the end of conflict in Libya.

It is horrific, on the other hand, to realize that human rights as a whole, including the most basic one, the right to life, is still not a priority — not only is it not a priority, it is also not even worthy of consideration. 

On 25 March, the European Council launched a new mission, Eunavfor Med Irini, with the aim of implementing the measures established by the UN regarding the arms embargo and oil trafficking in Libya. As the Danish Refugee Council has already publicly denounced, the European Council made sure, when setting up the Eunavfor Med Irini mission, that the return of military assets in the Mediterranean sea would not, in any case, imply that these assets would in any way, shape or form end up rescuing human lives.  At the same time, the Council has made sure to use this opportunity to redirect more European taxpayer money to a project that history will look back on as a crime against humanity: the training and support of the so-called Libyan coast guard in its activities, capturing refugees who flee Libya to escape torture in detention camps — camps that are also largely financed with our money —  and the violence of civil war.

Faced with an unprecedented health emergency, the call to our common sense of humanity suddenly makes us discover how all encompassing our current condition of vulnerability is, and yet, the EU once more confirms its inability to prioritise human rights and the protection of life. This would be an excellent time to deploy military assets once more, prioritising their mission to rescue those drowning every day while fleeing war in Libya, and to protect those who are sent back to Libya by local militias to, once again, be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Such assets would also be useful in facing today’s new health security needs without condemning to death or abandoning those who cross the Mediterranean, which is by now devoid of any rescue efforts. Behind the official mission of contrasting illegal weapons and oil trafficking, the face of Europe that has completely abandoned the best and most elevated components of its judicial makeup is clearly visible. This is the face of Europe that prefers to steer clear of anyone who is risking their lives in the sea, and that is happy to pay illegal Lybian militias, delegating to them the dirty work of violating international conventions. 

Meanwhile, member states continue to demonise and criminalise those same civil society rescue missions that never stopped looking at the law and rights as their beacon, both at sea and on land — as they have clearly been showing over the past few, difficult weeks.

News (EN)

Help those who help. Mediterranea supports all the social enterprises in difficulties due to the global pandemic

Mediterraea decided to launch the campaign “Help those who help” to support all the associations, self-managed spaces, social enterprises, collectives and self-organized groups, which due to the global pandemic have serious difficulties in staying open. 

We are supporting them by sharing their campaigns, asking everyone to support their effort to continue to work in this dramatic situation. 

Considering what’s expecting us after the lockdown ends, we cannot afford to lose this precious network of places and realities that have made solidarity their reason for existing. They are today’s “commons”, and together they represent a shared possible point of re-departure towards a new world, capable of containing many worlds, a fairer and safer world for all. For us, helping those who need to be rescued, both at sea and on land, has always been the ground where we fight for change, with concrete practices that generate new ideas. This is exactly what we need now.

Everyone does.

News (EN)

Free the # ElHiblu3: Alliance of human rights activists calls on Malta to drop charges against teenage refugees

Resisting illegal push-backs to Libya is not a crime!

One year ago, a rubber boat with over 100 people on board left the coast of Libya to reach safety in Europe. Although they were found and rescued by the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1, its crew was ordered by European authorities to return the rescued to Libya. Through a collective protest on board, the 108 rescued people averted a push-back and prompted the crew to steer toward Malta. During the protest, nobody was injured and nothing was damaged. In public, they were described as ‘pirates’ and ‘terrorists’ but when the Maltese military stormed the vessel, they only met humans who were looking for protection.

Upon disembarkation in Malta, three teenagers of 15, 16 and 19 years of age, were arrested and accused of several crimes, including terrorism. “We escaped tyrannical and inhumane treatments in Libya to find life in Malta,” says one of the three. Instead of finding what they were searching for, they were imprisoned for nearly eight months. Although they were released on bail in November 2019, the El Hiblu Three are not free. They still face severe charges that could result in years in prison.

Lucia Gennari of Mediterranea explains: “European authorities should never instruct shipmasters to bring rescued people back to Libya since this constitutes a clear breach of international law of the sea and a serious violation of fundamental rights.” Jelka Kretzschmar of Sea-Watch emphasizes: “The attempt to avoid being pushed back has to be considered an act of self defense and a way to protect life which can legitimately be punished.”

Our international solidarity campaign – Free the El Hiblu Three! – launches today. Passengers of the El Hiblu 1, sea-rescue organizations, international lawyers, researchers, activists, human rights organizations in Malta and beyond have come together to call for the immediate dismissal of the trial. Instead of being prosecuted, the El Hiblu Three should be celebrated for preventing an illegal push-back to Libya.

“The three teenagers should be seen as heroes – they prevented 108 survivors from being returned to inhumane conditions in Libya!”, Maurice Stierl of Alarm Phone adds.

Find more information and our short documentary on the campaign website: https://elhiblu3.info/

News (EN)

Coronavirus, the strength of Fabrizio: the volunteer who rescued migrants now drives the ambulance in Brescia

Fabrizio Gatti, 57 years old, from Brescia, volunteer of Mediterranea, is the answer to those who doubt that humanitarian organizations are engaged in the Covid-19 emergency. “To intervene on land or at sea it doesn’t make a difference for us, it’s always and only about helping people”.

By Fabio Tonacci, la Repubblica. Cover photo by Francesco Bellina

He took Simba, raised him to the sky on a late August night, and it seemed like he wanted to scream to the whole of Europe: this is who we are rejecting, explain now to this four-month-old baby why you don’t want him, why he scares you, why there is no place for him. It was August 28, 2019; the ship Mare Jonio was kept twelve miles away from the island of Lampedusa, following Minister Salvini’s “safety” decree. The man who passed Simba to the Italian coastguards, between waves two meters tall, who has been immortalized in a photo that has gone viral, now is in Brescia, facing a different storm, a new humanitarian emergency. Where other men and women are drowning. He drives an ambulance, has a crew of three people: history knows how to be truly lavish with coincidences, because when he was at sea with Mediterranea, he was also driving, but in that case was it was a life raft, not an ambulance, yet his crew was still made of three people.

His name is Fabrizio Gatti, he is from Brescia, he is 57 years old, he is part of the social enterprise that manages the scientific park AmbienteParco in his city; since 1986 he has been a volunteer of the White Cross. He is the living answer to those who, in these hours, are maliciously wondering: now, with Coronavirus, where are the NGOs? What do they do now that Italians, and not migrants, need help? Answer: they are at the forefront of this disaster, everyone as they can, as they must, as they know. As always.

Fabrizio is the involuntary protagonist of a video – recorded on board of Mare Jonio by Repubblica – that has been renamed “the transshipment of shame”. Sixty-four castaways that had to be moved [by order of the Italian authorities] from the humanitarian rescue ship to a Coast Guard patrol boat in the middle of a stormy night at sea, with waves so big that the two boats were swaying up and down like swings. Among the rescued there was an Ivorian child, who everyone started to call Simba after seeing that photo, because it resembled a famous scene of the movie The Lion King. “I still think about that night… pure insanity, and insane has been who gave that order; yet I remember well that even the Coast Guard crew were angry about what they were ordered to do,” says Gatti.

Fabio Tonacci: From the waves of Lampedusa to the drama of the dead in Brescia, with the hospitals that can’t take it anymore and the infected people on the rise. How’s that different?

Fabrizio Gatti: “To intervene on the road or at sea doesn’t make a difference: it’s always about driving a vehicle and a rescue team to save people. Here I take them to the hospital, over there I took them on board. In Brescia we operate three ambulances for the 118 emergency service, and two more for other types of assistance”.

FT: Not even a small difference?

FG: “Well, at sea we were better prepared, we knew who had to do what, how and when. Here we have been overwhelmed: it is a daily hallucination, we chase the emergency, but it doesn’t seem we can catch it”

FT: What’s the situation?

FG: “Surreal … in thirty years as a volunteer I have never seen such a thing. And I am 57 years old, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Today, ambulances do not enter the hospital anymore: they arrive in the tents outside the emergency room, tents that are already full of patients”.

FT: Where are you now?

FG: “At home, in quarantine. A couple of weeks ago we did one of the first home resuscitation interventions on a patient, a 69-year-old man who later turned out to be Covid-positive and later on died. He had the fever for ten days already, but nothing else, he seemed like a person without particular problems. Even though we wore protective equipment, my crew and I were quarantined for safety reasons. They visited me in one of those tents set up in front of the Brescia hospital: they were empty at that time, we were only six people inside. Today they are not enough for everyone. My quarantine time is about to end, but I am already helping out, like the other volunteers of Mediterranea Saving Humans”.

FT: How can you help if you can’t leave your house?

FG: “On the phone. I help with the coordination of the land crews of Mediterranea who are giving assistance to the Civil Protection agency with the delivery of food to the elderly and homeless. Then we have 112 medical doctors and other health workers who are part of our health support: they all work in the national health system and since the beginning of the epidemic they have been at their hospitals, many in Bergamo and Brescia”.

FT: What else?

FG: “During the August mission, Dr. Donatella Albini and the psychiatrist Carla Ferrari Agradi were also on board. They are from Brescia like me. Donatella is a medical consultant for the municipal government, she spends her days in the hospital to manage the emergency; Carla has set up a psychiatric phone assistance service, with 15 professionals answering calls. One of the problems, as she explained to me, is that psychiatric patients, left alone at home, are confused with the medicines to be taken”.

FT: Do you still look at that your picture with Simba your arms?

FG: “Yes, sometimes. And it makes me smile because I keep Simba too high, unnaturally; it was not a deliberate thing: I was passing adult people – much heavier – to the coastguard, and when it came the turn of that little boy, without realizing I used too much force. In a split second he was up in the air! ”

FT: What do you remember of that moment?

FG: “That I was extremely focused; we learn to be cold in those situations. But it hit me the next day: I secluded myself in a corner of Mare Jonio, I wasn’t able to speak or to explain to myself why someone from land had given the order to carry out a transhipment in such bad and dangerous conditions”.

FT: And did you manage to see Simba again?

FG: “Yes, on the cell phone. Francesco Bellina, the photographer who took that famous shot, tracked him down four months later in Turin and he sent me his photo. I didn’t even recognize that little boy, in four months he had changed so much, he became more chubby. He had, how to say… bloomed”.

News (EN)

Sailing through the crisis, planning hope. A letter to all the ground and sea crews

Dearest member of the ground and sea crews,

Our thoughts join those of everyone who, at this very moment, are trying to understand what is happening, while pushing away their fears and the uncertainty about the future. We share our ideas and state of mind, the images we gather from our peculiar observation points. Our social relations are an essential resource – that is where we can look for the strength to cope in this period; by breaking the silence and the solitude, while maintaining the necessary physical distance. We are drawing a new map of mutually supportive, free-thinking communities, in order to reset our compass and imagine new routes, to continue to sail even in a country in lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic.

We start off with a difficult, but inevitable message.

Between January and February this year, Mediterranea had achieved the release of the ship mare Jonio and the sailboat Alex: a fundamental achievement that doesn’t erase the bitterness for all the time and resources wasted in legal appeals, hearings, inspections and more, while we could have been at sea doing our job, helping people who need it.

We were ready to set sail again, as tenacious and determined as ever: the ships were ready, and so were our crews.

The development of the coronavirus pandemic, and the indisputably necessary measures adopted to try to contain it, protecting the frailer among us, and those more exposed to the risk, require us to suspend our operations at sea. We are both legally and morally obliged to comply with the current health regulations and travel restrictions that make it impossible for our crew to reach Licata, the departure port, to embark within a reasonable timeframe. These same measures have questioned the very sustainability of our mission itself.  Hence the decision to suspend the departure of our mission at sea, while closely monitoring the situation, until the end of the  COVID-19 emergency allows us to become operational once again.

 

Mediterranea though is not translating #StayingHome into #StayingDocked

The effects of this forced choice are cause of great suffering for us, because people risk their lives at sea every day. After three weeks of bad weather, departures have inevitably started again. The only relief is the hopefully possible presence in the central Mediterranean Sea of other vessels of civil society, of what we refer to as the “Civil Fleet”, which we will support in any way possible. The fact that our ship cannot set sail does not mean that we are stuck. As we know very well, our beloved Mare Jonio is made of more than its steel, its engines, its rudder and its hull: it is made of what we bring to it ourselves, of what is within each one of us, and how we manage to bring it together. Our ship now will now need to sail through this crisis thanks to its crews that carry it in their hearts everywhere they go. 

Our crews are made of those 100+ doctors and paramedics who are part of the Mediterranea ground and sea crews, who have been on the front line in the Italian hospital since day one of this epidemic. Our crews are the dozens of activists who are lending their hand to the public services in the various areas affected by the contagion, working in the ambulance and assistance services. As we’ve said since the beginning, Mediterranea will only stop when its mission won’t be necessary any more. And if this is true for sea rescue, it applies to our commitment on land today. Mediterranea’s existence will make sense for as long as anyone is forced to risk their life in the Mediterranean Sea, or anywhere else in the world. 

Mediterranea will exist for as long as the absurd logic of closed borders — proven to be completely irrelevant by the virus — will continue to produce injustice and incivility, death and suffering.

There is safety in numbers

Nothing could be a better teacher than the current situation. If there is a silver lining in the current dramatic condition, it is the evidence of the vulnerability and interdependence of each of us as human beings, beyond all differences and borders. The challenge is to now turn this newfound awareness into an ability to create mutually supportive, open communities, which will be safe precisely because they are open, and mutually supportive. This pandemic is the clear demonstration of the fact that brutal violence on the borders does not protect anyone. The conditions of marginalization, inequality, misery and terror in which millions of people live on the threshold of Europe, are among the first causes of danger and unsafety for everyone.

We continue to fight the war on misinformation

We believe it is serious that even in the current situation there has been no shortage of a certain type of propaganda, directed at fostering division and racism instead of rebuilding the sense of community we so badly needed, denying the emotional impact we all felt when some people were rejected at borders “solely” for being Italians. We all read those articles that naively, or in bad faith, stated that the departures from Libya had decreased “thanks to the coronavirus”, while conveniently failing to mention adverse weather conditions and the recapturing at the hand of the Libyan that had stopped many refugees from reaching Europe. Most importantly, these articles also omit to mention that “zero arrivals” often means “more shipwrecks”. This translates into more torture and violence for those who continue to be held and often to die in Libyan camps, known for what the United Nations have called the “unimaginable horrors” consumed within them.

Our duty as Mediterranea is to break the silence: even while facing a global pandemic, we must not forget the horrors that continue to torment our world, especially since they weren’t caused by natural disasters, but by the deliberate choices of those in power. It is our duty to continue denouncing the role that European institutions, national governments, and all authorities play in this atrocity. It is our duty to continue condemning and opposing those policies that, together with the attacks on refugees on the Greek-Turkish border, are destroying the very idea of Europe. Even at this moment, we cannot avoid thinking about the bombing of Idlib in Syria and about its consequences on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people; we cannot ignore the Erdogan’s blackmailing of European rulers, paid for by the bodies of those who are trying to escape certain death; we cannot ignore the claims of the European Union, which declared repressive action (including attacks and the “refugee hunt” organized by neo-Nazi groups that no one tried to stop?) on the Greek border as compatible with human rights, with the 1951 Geneva Convention, and with those very values on which western democracies should be based.

The situation in Lesvos, a microcosm where the escalation of border violence has become a media spectacle, reminds us of the role played by Lampedusa over the past decades: both islands have been turned into borders, used as bottlenecks by their respective government policies.

What is happening highlights the disastrous nature of the EU-Turkey agreement of 18th March 2016, which was used as an example for writing the Memorandum between the Italian government and the Libyan militias: that same Memorandum that makes us accomplices of a repressive and bloodthirsty regime. That same Memorandum that sanctions the exclusion of a part of humanity from the right to live, to flee from death, not to see its children die. And now that the coronavirus, which can bypass all borders, is also reaching the Greek islands and conflict areas where millions of refugees are blocked, a health disaster of unprecedented proportions is looming.

In the face of all this, even with the suspension of our mission, we mustn’t stop our work. From the beginning, our action at sea has been supported and made possible by the exceptional support of our ground crews in Italy, Spain, Belgium, the United States, France, Germany and the UK who believed in us. Thousands of people that have gifted us with miles and  hope, and the determination to carry on, against and despite the Italian Security Decrees put into place by the previous government — and that are still in place today.

On land, just like at sea

It is time to reciprocate, to act on land just as we always have at sea. Although scattered, we need to act as one crew, sharing the same space and from this invent new practices for solidarity.

We stand with those who are asking for immediate investments in public health, income and protection for affected workers, for social and community spaces, for associations and social enterprises, heavily affected by the forced suspension of their activities.

We are trying to make ourselves useful to those who will suffer from this crisis more than others, for those whose rights are denied, for those who, after disembarking in Italy, decided to stay here, to try to build a life of dignity and who are facing an increasing number of obstacles today. We are trying to support all those who are forced to face material, physical, psychological difficulties, including the simple prescription to stay at home — because not everyone has a home, and not for everyone home is a guarantee of freedom and respect.

We are trying to activate every resource within Mediterranea in every way we can, to place our collective experience and our individual skills at the service of others.

Today more than ever, we feel the need to recognise ourselves as a community, made of those who continue to work daily in our operational teams, of our ground crews, and of all those we have met along the way and whom we’ll meet again soon, so that in the aftermath of this emergency, it will be the virus of solidarity that will spread, by surfing on fears. Only in this way will everything really be fine.

Mediterranea Saving Humans