(London, 8 November 2022) – The Italian government’s refusal to allow around 250 people to disembark from two non-government rescue boats moored in Catania puts those people at risk and violates Italy’s international human rights obligations. ; the same applies to the directive obliging rescue ships to return to international waters.
Over the weekend of 5-6 November 2022, the Italian government allowed the two rescue ships – Humanity 1 (chartered by SOS Humanity) and Geo Barents (chartered by Doctors Without Borders, or MSF) – to temporarily dock at the port of Catania. . Following summary assessments of ” vulnerability »Ordered by the government by two doctors selected by the authorities, 144 people from Humanity 1 and 357 from Geo Barents were allowed to disembark; these were mainly women, children and men with physical health problems. One of the men forced to remain on Humanity 1 then collapsed and was evacuated by ambulance, leaving 34 people on board. Authorities refused to disembark 215 passengers from Geo Barents. One of them had to be medically evacuated overnight, leaving 214 people on board.
” The government’s actions cruelly expose victims of abuse in Libya to further potential harm and deprive them of the right to seek asylum, in violation of Italian and international law said Giulia Tranchina, a researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. ” No one should be deliberately exposed to degrading conditions and all should be allowed to disembark and their claims for international protection treated fairly. “
The ratings of ” vulnerability they were performed by physicians without the assistance of interpreters or psychologists and appear to be based mainly or exclusively on physical health assessments. Under these conditions, exhausted survivors would have had a limited ability to provide details about their full health status, mental health problems, or experiences of abuse. Journalists were denied access to the pier, prompting criticism from the European Federation of Journalists.
The Italian authorities have ordered the two rescue ships to leave the port with people on board, arguing that the two respective flag states – Germany and Norway – are responsible for those who remain. The captains of both ships refused to follow the directive and SOS Humanité took legal action against the Italian government to challenge the legality of this policy and allow survivors to exercise their right to disembark and seek asylum.
International refugee rights law, as well as European Union directives and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, guarantee the right to seek asylum and prohibit collective expulsions. Under maritime law, a rescue is considered complete when all rescued people are promptly disembarked in a safe place. Ships can only be considered safe places temporarily. Although there is a doctrine of flag state exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas, ships – and the people within them – in port are subject to port state jurisdiction.
Two other rescue vessels chartered by non-governmental organizations were waiting in the Mediterranean for the authorities to assign them a port. Ocean Viking, chartered by SOS Méditerranée, has 234 people on board, while Rise Above, chartered by Mission Lifeline, has 89. They suffered bad weather and high waves. Six people had to be medically evacuated by Rise Above. On the evening of November 7, the Italian authorities finally informed the crew of Rise Above that this ship could dock at the port of Reggio Calabria, but the Ocean Viking was still stuck at sea.
Since 20 October, non-governmental rescue ships have rescued about 1,000 people, while in the same period over 11,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea, independently or following the rescue of the Italian Coast Guard. The only people who encounter problems disembarking are those rescued by non-government ships. Non-governmental rescue ships have brought only 14% of the people disembarked in Italy in the past 12 months and, contrary to all efforts by the Italian authorities to stigmatize their rescue operations, there is no evidence that the governments of non-governmental groups “Attract” new migrants.
Migrants and asylum seekers should not be trapped at sea for political disputes or leverage in negotiations, Human Rights Watch said. Italy and Malta are the closest coastal states to Libya and have a responsibility to ensure that all relief can disembark quickly.
Libya is not a safe country for migrants and asylum seekers, so survivors rescued at sea cannot be legally obliged to disembark there. A UN investigation concluded in June that there were ” well-founded reasons to believe that crimes against humanity are committed against migrants in Libya including “murders, enforced disappearances, torture, forms of slavery, sexual violence, rape and other inhuman acts … linked to their arbitrary detention”.
At the same time, it is important for the European Union to move towards an effective system of responsibility sharing within the framework of a common European asylum system. The decision by a group of European countries, including Germany and Norway, to establish a voluntary platform in June to relocate asylum seekers from EU coastal states is a positive, albeit slow, step. More is needed, including at the EU level, Human Rights Watch said.
” Trapping people on ships or beaching them at sea is not a serious immigration policy – it is just an inhuman and illegal theater. “, Concluded Giulia Tranchina. ” Instead of violating people’s rights and disappointing its European partners, Italy should support a predictable system of disembarkation of people and the resumption of European state-led search and rescue operations, along with a fair system of responsibility-sharing for migrants and asylum seekers. “