Sea rescue: Italy’s government is forcing NGOs into distant ports – Politics


They had to fight their way through three, four, even up to six meter high waves, rough and very rough sea conditions are called such conditions in the maritime language. the OceanViking from SOS Mediterranée made it to Ancona’s port on Wednesday night, and the 37 migrants, rescued from a completely overcrowded rubber dinghy off the Libyan coast, were able to disembark. All seasick. Just like the 73 migrants and the crew of the GeoBarentslike Jana Ciernioch from the organization Doctors Without Borders reported, which operates the rescue ship.

the GeoBarents should dock in Ancona on Wednesday afternoon, but due to the rough sea it will be much later. She is the largest of the NGO rescue ships in the world Mediterranean Sea, it can accommodate around 600 people. But the ship is running at walking speed, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to withstand the waves, says Ciernioch Süddeutsche Zeitung. “We had to evacuate the rescued people to the upper deck because the lower deck was completely flooded.”

Ancona is certainly not the “next safe port”.

The two NGO ships had to cover around 1,600 kilometers over more than four days from the operational area off North Africa: past Sicily to the tip of the boot, then a good 600 kilometers to Ancona, the capital of the Marche region on the northern Adriatic coast. Ancona is anything but the “next safe haven” to which rescued people must be brought according to maritime law.

But Italy’s right-wing government has assigned the ships this port, and all requests to be allowed to call at a closer port due to the weather have been rejected, Ciernioch said. “Absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible,” she calls the way the rescue ships and the people on them are being treated.

The Italian right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has officially declared war on the sea rescuers and the assignment of such a remote port is obviously one of their means. It is not in the decree issued at the end of December with which Rome wants to put NGO ships on a short leash, but it fits in with it. The decree stipulates, among other things, that the rescuers must go to a port immediately after each operation, even if they could rescue other migrants. And it forbids taking the rescued to another ship, which is why the OceanViking and the GeoBarents who had to cover 1600 kilometers. Anyone who violates the decree faces fines of up to 50,000 euros, arrest or confiscation of the ship.

In the version of the right-wing government, the NGOs and their ships are the main “transporters” of the migrants. In fact, they bring about eleven percent of the boat people into the country. The government does not mention that most of them are brought to safety by Italy’s coast guard, and that boats from Tunisia often make it there on their own.

The decree of the Meloni government makes the Mediterranean even more dangerous

20 rescue organizations have protested against the decree, they see it as a violation of international maritime law, refugee law and EU law. Ciernioch says: “The new Italian legislative decree is clearly aimed at keeping civil sea rescue ships out of the sea and thus reducing arrivals in Italy.” This creates “a dangerous rescue gap”. The central Mediterranean, one of the world’s most dangerous escape routes, is becoming even more dangerous. Even more people could die there, at least 2,000 in 2022 according to the International Organization for Migration. Médecins Sans Frontières lawyers are checking whether they can take legal action against the Meloni government’s decree, says Jana Ciernioch.

The fact that the rescue crews should record the data of rescued people who want to apply for asylum and have to inform the authorities of this also appears legally questionable in the decree. But these are government duties. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said asylum applications should only be processed on land if refugees are safe and their immediate needs are met.

The fact that they now always have to call at other ports complicates the work of the sea rescuers in another way, says Ciernioch. Everything was fine-tuned in Sicily and Calabria, now they constantly have to deal with different authorities, and the NGOs also have to ensure that representatives of the UNHCR and the organization Save the Children are in the port so that everything runs under their supervision.

It is also a premiere for Ancona, never before has an NGO ship with migrants arrived so far north. In the opposition Partito Democratico (PD), it is already suspected that the right-wing government is not only targeting NGOs, but also wants to create problems in port cities where the PD governs. At least that’s the case in Ancona.

A particularly large number of refugees arrived in Calabria and Sicily

But Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi says assigning more northern ports should help distribute migrants more evenly across the country. He has just announced in Agrigento, Sicily, where many boat people fall, that Calabria and Sicily will no longer be “Europe’s refugee camps.” Cities and provinces in Sicily are under particular pressure because most migrants land there. Especially on the islet of Lampedusa, which is closer to Tunisia than the main island of Sicily.

Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino was also present at Piantedose’s performance in Agrigento. He called for special laws for Lampedusa, compensation for everything its citizens have been putting themselves through for decades because of the refugees, because of the tragedies like the three dead last weekend, he wants a task force. Mannino has nothing against refugees or NGOs, but he said he doesn’t even know how to fund the removal of waste from the reception center, which in a few days produces as much as 6,000 islanders do a year.

The situation has just come to a head again. Since January 1, more than 3,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into Italy, ten times more than at the same time in 2022. This may be due to the good weather up until a few days ago, which favors the crossings from Libya and Tunisia. However, the trend from the previous year could also continue, with around 100,000 people arriving, a third more than in 2021. Prime Minister Meloni will certainly argue with this at the special EU migration summit on February 9th and 10th in Brussels to underpin demands on the partner countries .



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