29.11.2022. The non-governmental search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity has criticised a new escalation of the EU’s ongoing closed-door policy over the past weeks. In its second rescue report published today, SOS Humanity accuses the Italian government of breaking international law. The EU Commission’s action plan on the Central Mediterranean refugee route, published on 21st November, continues to focus on preventing people fleeing to the EU instead of respecting international maritime law and human rights.
In three rescues on 22nd and 24th October, the crew of the Humanity 1 rescued 180 people from distress at sea, most of them unaccompanied minors. All of the survivors had fled Libya, where many reported suffering abuse and arbitrary detention: “I’ve been to prison three times. Even if you haven’t done anything, people kidnap you in Libya, they lock you up and you have to do everything in their compound. You can’t leave,” says Bakary (name changed), a 16-year-old youth from Gambia. Other survivors had seen friends and family members fall out of the overcrowded boat and drown the night before the rescue.
Despite the traumatic experiences of the survivors and increasingly bad weather conditions, the relevant authorities refused to assign a place of safety until the very end. In violation of international maritime law and human rights, the Italian government ordered the selective disembarkation of the rescued people in Catania. The captain did not comply with the subsequent order to leave the port with the remaining 35 survivors, as this would have amounted to an illegal collective refoulement. SOS Humanity is appealing against the illegal decree before the regional administrative court in Rome.
“The decree of the new right-wing Italian government against the rescue ship Humanity 1 represents a further escalation in terms of disregarding existing law,” says SOS Humanity’s advocacy officer Mirka Schäfer. “Those rescued from distress at sea must be able to go ashore immediately in a nearby place of safety, as required by the law of the sea.”
According to SOS Humanity, the action plan presented by the European Commission on 21st November does not offer any new approaches to improve the situation in the Mediterranean. Instead, the EU continues to rely on its policy of preventing people fleeing to the EU. The EU is planning to expand cooperation with non-EU countries such as Libya, even though the EU-funded so-called Libyan coast guard intercepted more than 20,800 people at sea and illegally returned them to Libya in 2022 alone. Here, they face serious human rights violations, including torture, extortion and forced labour.
“The proposed EU action plan sticks to the existing deadly closed-door policy,” explains Mirka Schäfer. “Instead of complying with and implementing existing international maritime law, the EU wants to discuss a new legal framework. In addition, millions of euros will again be spent on cooperation with non-EU countries in which human rights are severely violated.”
On the occasion of the EU Conference of Ministers of the Interior in Brussels on 8th and 9th December, SOS Humanity calls on the EU and its member states to give top priority to the right to life and compliance with international maritime law and human rights at Europe’s external borders in the Central Mediterranean.
The full rescue report can be found here.
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Link to the current press kit of SOS Humanity with information about the ship, the crew (including statements), the rescue mission and our political demands:
The demands in SOS Humanity’s petition about European rescue coordination centres can be read here.
SOS Humanity is a non-governmental organisation that rescues people in distress in the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded in 2015 in Berlin, and subsequently, a network of associations in France, Switzerland and Italy was formed. By the end of 2021, the organisation had rescued a total of 34,631 people from drowning in the central Mediterranean sea firstly with the rescue ship Aquarius and then the Ocean Viking. In order to respond even more strongly to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, SOS Humanity – since January detached from the former alliance SOS Mediterranee and renamed – is now since the end of August 2022, back at sea with its own ship, the Humanity 1.