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.