Misuse of maritime law is providing a smoke-screen for a political decision to prevent rescue ships from saving lives in the Mediterranean, declares Médecins Sans Frontières, as the Sea-Watch 4 becomes the fifth NGO ship to be immobilised by Italian port authorities in less than five months.
During its maiden lifesaving voyage, Sea-Watch 4 rescued 354 people. Among them were 227 men, as well as 98 unaccompanied teenagers, families, women travelling alone, people with disabilities, pregnant mothers and children – the youngest less than two years old. The MSF medical team on board provided 551 consultations, treating many people for fuel exposure and intoxication, caused by fumes from the petrol used to power the engines and the corrosive cocktail of saltwater mixed with gasoline. One teenager sustained chemical burns so severe he had to be medically evacuated.
“The violent reality people have escaped, and the dangers of the journey they are forced to take in order to seek safety, was evidenced by the wounds we treated,” said Barbara Deck, MSF medical project coordinator on board. “Yet, from the boy now deaf as result of a punch to the head by armed men, to the father who carries the scars of melted plastic branded on his skin while in Libya, the resilience we witnessed was humbling. As we treat our patients on board, it is devastating to know that European governments are doing everything they can to prevent these vulnerable people from being provided with this lifesaving care.”
As we treat our patients on board, it is devastating to know that European governments are doing everything they can to prevent these vulnerable people from being provided with this lifesaving care.BARBARA DECK, MSF MEDICAL PROJECT COORDINATOR ON BOARD
The decision by the Italian authorities to detain Sea-Watch 4 is all the more reprehensible given that the ship was instructed by the Maltese authorities to take on board more people from the search and rescue ship Louise Michel after it was forced to call for help while in the Maltese search and rescue region. At the same time Italian coast guard vessels were on scene and evacuated 50 vulnerable people from the over 200 people onboard.
The Sea-Watch 4 is only at sea because of the absence of state-led search and rescue capacity at the world’s deadliest sea border. MSF and other NGOs are simply trying to fill the deadly gap left by European states. August registered the highest number of fatalities in the central Mediterranean so far this year, with 111 people reported dead or missing. In the most recent shipwreck off the Libyan coast on 15 September, over 20 people were reported missing presumed dead and in another shipwreck on 17 August, 45 migrants and refugees died bringing the overall total for this year to 379.
Legitimate maritime procedures are being manipulated and abused by Italian authorities. Inspections of NGO vessels have become a way to block search and rescue efforts.ELLEN VAN DER VELDEN, MSF OPERATIONAL MANAGER FOR SEARCH AND RESCUE.
“Once a rescue ship enters an Italian port, it is subjected to a lengthy and overzealous inspection until some insignificant irregularities are found. It took 11 hours of inspection on the Sea-Watch 4 yesterday to come up with sufficient infractions to prevent the ship from sailing out of the port of Palermo,” said Ellen van der Velden, MSF operational manager for Search and Rescue.
“We are accused of “systematically” saving people,criticised for having too many life jackets on board and scrutinised over the sewage system. Meanwhile the obligation for every ship to provide assistance to boats in distress is completely disregarded. This is the Italian authorities playing dirty, attempting to incriminate and stop humanitarian organisations who are doing nothing more than trying to save lives at sea as per international maritime law, while tearing up the rule-book on their own obligations, chiefly to provide assistance to boats in distress. And this with the assent, if not full endorsement, of European states,” added van der Velden.
Not only are European states are failing to provide search and rescue capacity, but they have co-opted the Libyan coast guard to police the Central Mediterranean. Since the beginning of 2020, almost 8,000 refugees and migrants have been intercepted at sea and forced back to Libya – a 32 per cent increase in comparison with the same period last year – as the number of people held in official detention centres in the country continues to grow. Despite the fact that we know Libya is not a safe place.
Across the Mediterranean, from preventing rescues at sea to purposely holding people in Moria refugee camp, the EUs current approach to migration is to systematically trap, push back and abandon people; whether that is leaving them to die at sea or trapping thousands of men, women and children in appalling conditions in camps on the Greek islands. As the European Union heralds its new pact on migration set to be launched on 23 September, organisations such as MSF are dealing with the human cost of such inhumane policies. This latest move by the Italian authorities suggests this pact will manifest more of the same, casting a shadow on the pledge even before it is made public.
EU member states are disregarding their legal and moral duty to save lives, opting instead to impose abusively bureaucratic and administrative measures on yet another lifesaving ship. A decision to further decimate already limited search and rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean will have devastating consequences for those in desperate need of assistance and inevitably result in more lives lost.
Sea-Watch 4 must urgently be released so that it can recommence life-saving search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean and the ongoing attacks on NGO’s trying to provide assistance to desperate people must stop.
Background: Five NGO rescue ships blocked in five months
Sea-Watch 4 is the fifth ship to be detained by Italian authorities in the last five months. After each one of the ships was subjected to a Port State Control, the Italian coast guard announced it had discovered “irregularities of a technical and operational nature to the extent that they risk compromising not only the safety of the crew but also of those who have been or could be rescued” on all five ships.
On 5 May, the German-flagged ship Alan Kurdi operated by Sea-Eye was the first one this year to be detained at the port of Palermo in Sicily after the ship completed a mandatory quarantine following the disembarkation of 150 rescued people in Sicily. On 6 May, the Spanish-flagged Aita Mari operated by Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario was also detained, followed by the detaining of Sea-Watch 3 in the port of Porto Empedocle on 8 July. On 22 July, Ocean Viking of SOS MEDITERRANEE was also detained in Porto Empedocle after an 11-hour Port State Control. Another rescue vessel, the Iuventa operated by the German aid group Jugend Rettet was detained by Italian authorities in August 2017, after it was accused of “facilitating the irregular entry” of migrants into Italy and is still blocked.
Sustained criminalisation campaign of SAR NGOs
The detainment of Sea-Watch 4 is just the latest blow in a campaign of criminalisation against search and rescue NGOs. Amid accusations of colluding with smugglers, criminal investigations and judicial proceedings against MSF, (including on way it managed waste on board) in 2018 the organisation had to stop its search and rescue operations on board the Aquarius, a ship operated in partnership with SOS MEDITERRANEE, after it lost its flag twice in two months at the instigation of Italian authorities. Such decision was the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people.
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK
The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.
Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.
Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.
Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.
“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.
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