No NGO rescue boats currently in central Mediterranean, agencies warn
• Rescue ship missions have reportedly stopped operating in the central Mediterranean waters since 26 of August. Activists have claimed that Italy and Malta are refusing to let rescue boats into their waters or allow any of the rescue boats to dock in their ports. The refusals have caused vessels operating by the “Open Arms NGO” to stop working in the central Mediterranean waters. The “Aquarius “which was previously forced to detour to Spain after being refused entry by Italy and Malta is due to restart operations from France. Its operators have said that they cannot guarantee its constant presence in the sea. This is not the first-time central Mediterranean waters are without any rescue ships. Two months before this stop, rescue ships had stopped operating between June 28th to July 8th of 2018. During those 10 days, more than 300 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives. Despite a relative decline in the numbers of arrivals to countries as Italy, the rate of deaths is much higher when compared to the number of arrivals in 2016 and the death rate in the same year.
Charities plea for help after Aquarius migrant rescue ship’s flag revoked
• Charities announced that the Panamian Maritime Authority under pressure from the Italian government has revoked the flag of the migrant rescue ship “Aquarius”. The charities which included the MSF have asked European governments to intervene and regulate the status of the ship or give it a new flag to be able to register. The allegations were denied by the Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini in a move described as “strange“ by the Spokeswoman of SOS Méditerranée since Matteo Salvini’s name wasn’t mentioned in the original pledge. The MSF head of emergencies said that what happened to the Aquarius reflect the double standards of European politics “For the past two years, European leaders have claimed that people should not die at sea, but at the same time they have pursued dangerous and illinformed policies that have brought the humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean and in Libya to new lows.”
After Standoff, “Aquarius Migrants” Finally Disembark in Malta
• Malta allowed the Aquarius to finally dock in its port and disembark the 58 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers on board. This decision came after other EU countries agreed each to take a number of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
In the agreement, France accepted to take 18, Germany and Spain will each take 15 and Portugal will take 10 migrants.
The 58 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers on the Aquarius among whom 35 were women and children, were rescued in the sea from two boats. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated, “Reinforcing search and rescue capacity on the central Mediterranean and disembarkation in places of safety, has to be everyone’s goal,”.
UN extends mandate to fight people-smuggling off Libya’s coast
• The UN security council has extended Operation Sophia with an aim to fight smuggling boats off the coast of Libya. The programme allows EU naval forces to search the Mediterranean waters and stop vessels contributing to human trafficking. The proposed extension of programme submitted by the UK was supported by 15 members states and will be effective until 3 October 2019. This resolution aims to tackle the increasing death toll in the Mediterranean since the rate of death has increased despite drop in arrivals.
Protesters in Paris support migrant rescue ship Aquarius
• Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Paris on Saturday 6 October wearing orange vests to protest the revocation of the flag of the Aquarius migrant rescue boat operated by SOS Mediterranee. The protestors waved signs such as “Saving lives: A duty not a crime” and ‘’Save the Aquarius”. Further demonstrations also took place in other French cities such as Marseille and in the northern city of Lille. The Aquarius is still waiting for its status to be resolved as it is now operating without a flag, which prevents it from docking and disembarking migrants, refugees and asylum seekers it rescues.
NGO launches new civilian sea mission in Mediterranean waters
• The humanitarian group Mediterranea launched a new migrant rescue ship bearing the name ‘Mare Jonio’ to operate in the Mediterranean. The vessel a former tug boat was bought by the humanitarian group to help rescue migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and started operations on 3 October. The vessel’s mission will be to identify boats struggling while carrying migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and provide civilian presence in the areas where the Libyan coast guard and international military vessels are failing to rescue people. Lawmaker Nicola Fratoianni whose party is one of the political parties backing the ‘Mare Jonio’ said that the vessel is not to oppose the policies of the Italian government but rather to fill a gap left after many rescue ships were stopped from operating in the Mediterranean.
• It is important to note that Minister Salvini declared that Italian ports will be closed off to any non-Italian rescue ships after he took office. Therefore, the launch of Mare Jonio off the Libyan coast is considered a challenge to Salvini’s policies since the boat is carrying an Italian flag. This will make it tougher for the Italian minister to prevent the ship from docking in Italy
Vienna and Rome in clinch with UN over migration policy
• The UN has criticized the EU’s handling of its migration policy whilst singling out some countries such as Italy, Germany and Austria. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, mentioned the three countries in her first speech as commissioner saying that Austria, Germany and Italy are prioritizing the return of the migrants over respect for their human rights obligations. The UN commissioner leveled accusations against Austria in particular for failing to take measures to meet its human rights obligations. Bachelet also criticized the Italian government’s handling of the issues of migration and its stance towards rescue operations.
Commissioner Bachelet also criticized the prevalence of xenophobic hate speech in Germany and Hungary and the criminalization of those assisting asylum seekers. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz responded to the allegations by saying, “You will quickly realize that we have taken in the second-highest number of people in Europe per capita. It will soon become clear that our welfare state is so strong and the living conditions for migrants are better than in any other country in the world. The review is also an opportunity to correct prejudices and targeted misinformation about Austria.” Italy responded to the criticisms by threatening to withdraw funding from the UN.