ITALY: New Safe Harbor Decree – “Save all lives, on land and at sea. It is possible and dutiful” – say NGOs

(Mediterranea – Saving Humans, 8 April 2020)

The NGOs Sea-Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Open Arms and Mediterranea express their concern about the Italian government’s decision to use the health emergency situation to close its ports to people rescued at sea by foreign ships, referring once again, in fact, to civilian search and rescue ships.

With a decree whose clear aim is to stop rescue activities in the Mediterranean, without providing alternatives to saving the lives of those fleeing Libya, Italy has deprived its ports of the connotation of “safe places”, typical of all European ports, equating itself with countries at war or where respect for human rights is not guaranteed and operating an arbitrary selection of ships to which access is denied.

It would have been possible to find many different solutions, reconciling the duty to guarantee the health of everyone on land with that of rescuing lives at sea, a duty that cannot equate rescue ships with cruise ships.

At a time when Italy is asking and obtaining solidarity from its international partners and the NGOs themselves to deal with the Covid-19 emergency, the government should show the same solidarity towards vulnerable people who risk their lives at sea because they have no alternative.

None of the organizations that signed this statement are currently at sea with their ships, since they are reorganizing their structures and operations in order to adapt to the health measures of prevention and response to Covid-19.

We are deeply aware of the emergency situation we are all experiencing, so much so that, as you know, we have all put our resources and personnel at the disposal of the Italian health system committed against Covid-19, to which we are offering support in this tragic emergency.

We are not at sea, but one of the humanitarian ships flying a foreign flag – to whose activities the decree refers – is, together with 150 survivors of a shipwreck, including a pregnant woman. The health emergency does not affect the need to find a dignified solution for Alan Kurdish as soon as possible.

The decree in fact instrumentalises the health emergency, taking over the system already used in the recent past to obstruct rescue activities at sea, at a difficult time when more than ever it would be necessary to assume responsibility at European level in order to comply with the rescue obligation.

Like the Security Decree Bis, also this instrument classifies as a threat the entry of foreign ships that have rescued shipwrecked in the Central Mediterranean Sea, repeating the implicit reference to Libyan responsibility, or landing in distant countries, against international regulations.

In these difficult days, empathy and solidarity with others, especially those who are fighting to continue living and those who have lost loved ones, have allowed us all to remain strong. At a time like this, the suffering of citizens affected by a health emergency cannot become a reason to deny support – which is also a legal obligation – to those who do not lose their breath on an intensive care bed but drowning.

All lives must be saved, all vulnerable people must be protected, both on land and at sea. It is possible and necessary to do so.

(Translated from Italian with Deepl)