Central Mediterranean: European governments must put people’s lives before politics

Diplomatic stand off in the Central Mediterranean Sea

Amsterdam/Valencia, 17 June 2018 – Following this week’s political stand-off over the fate of people rescued in the Mediterranean, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) denounces Italy’s closure of its ports to prevent 630 rescued people from disembarking and European governments’ choice of political point-scoring over saving lives at sea.

“The men, women, and children on board the Aquarius have fled conflict and poverty, and have survived horrific abuse in Libya. They have been shipped from one boat to another like cargo and endured the elements on an unnecessarily long journey at sea,” says Karline Kleijer, MSF Head of Emergencies. “We are grateful to Spain for stepping in, even as Italian and other European governments have shamefully failed in their humanitarian responsibilities and placed politics over the lives of vulnerable people.”

Ahead of the European Council meeting next week, MSF calls on European governments to put human lives first. They must facilitate swift disembarkation in the closest safe ports in Europe where rescued people can receive adequate care, and ensure those in need of international protection are able to apply for asylum or other forms of protection. They must not obstruct independent non-governmental search and rescue initiatives and must set up a proactive, dedicated search and rescue mechanism in the Central Mediterranean.

Italy closes its ports and plays with the lives of 629 rescued persons

Over the weekend of 9 and 10 June, the Aquarius search and rescue vessel, operated by SOS Méditerranée in partnership with MSF, rescued more than 200 people and received an additional 400 people from Italian naval and coastguard ships. Although the rescue and transfers of the 630 people were initiated and coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), the Italian authorities denied Aquarius authorisation to bring them ashore in the closest port of safety in Italy. In doing so, they broke with past practice and international law. Malta, which had the nearest safe port, also refused to allow the Aquarius to disembark, citing Italy’s coordination role and responsibility.

Eventually, on 11 June, the Spanish government intervened and offered to let the Aquarius disembark in Valencia, 1,300 kilometres away.

MSF continued to press the Italian authorities to authorise disembarkation in the…

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