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Migrant rescue board in even greater danger

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:


The migrants and refugees were rescued from a dinghy off Libya on 3 April by a rescue boat operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye and named Alan Kurdi after the Syrian boy who drowned in 2015. Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has repeatedly declared Italian waters closed to NGO rescue vessels. Several boats have previously been left stranded at sea due to Salvini’s hardline approach, which is partly designed to force other parts of Europe to take in more asylum seekers. Sea-Eye’s head of mission, Jan Ribbeck, said food and drinking water stocks had nearly run out before a delivery by another NGO rescue ship on Tuesday. According to Ribbeck, there were 80 people on board, including crew, but the ship was built to accommodate only 20. Many are sleeping on the deck, exposed to the elements and without a change of clothes when they get wet, he said. A Sea-Eye spokeswoman said conditions on board were unsustainable and an approaching storm had put the refugees and migrants in even greater danger. A German interior ministry spokesperson said the country was prepared to take in some of those on board the Alan Kurdi. We trust that a large number of EU member states will declare themselves ready to participate in the redistribution of the people on board,” the spokesperson said. Germany too will again be prepared to take up its responsibility for some of these people within the framework of a European solution.

Concerns are rising for the wellbeing of 64 people stranded on a migrant rescue vessel in the Mediterranean for a week because neither Italy nor Malta will allow the boat to dock. It was claimed in official documents relating to the seizure that there was evidence that the rescuers had collaborated with smugglers to get their boats sent back to Libya after rescues, an allegation that has been strenuously denied. Klemp, who worked in marine conservation before joining the crew of the Iuventa, continued to be involved in rescue operations in a second boat until June last year when she was informed by lawyers that she risked pre-trial detention if found in Italian waters. Klemp said her experience on the Mediterranean made her determined to highlight the torment of those fleeing Libya and the culpability of the EU and the Italian government. She said: We had a rescue where we could only try to bring a two-year-old boy back to life we didn’t manage to. The Libyan coastguard had intercepted the refugees and did everything they could to forcibly take them back to Libya. They damaged the refugee boats and a lot of people were left in water. Italian and French warships did not assist with the rescue. Some 40 people got taken back to Libya, 40 drowned and we had 60 on our ship including this little boy who we had to keep in our freezer for several days. Europe didn’t give us a port of safety so we had to bob up and down in international waters for several days with that boy in the freezer, with his mother onboard.

And you were really wondering what you are going to tell that woman whose child is in your freezer about the Nobel peace prize-winning European Union. Libyan authorities allocated Tripoli as a safe port for the disembarkment of 52 people rescued by Sea-Watch, an NGO. Sea-Watch declined the offer and headed to Lampedusa with the rescued onboard. If the illegal NGO ship disobeys, keeping the lives of the immigrants at risk, they will answer for it fully, said Salvini, who has repeatedly declared Italian waters closed to NGO rescue vessels Speaking to the media ahead of a summer of fundraising to cover legal costs likely to be reach €500,000, Klemp said the rescuers were being targeted as part of a wider attempt to stigmatise refugees. There is no way I am going to prison for saving people in distress,” Klemp said. It is the most ridiculous thing on so may different levels. And I will never accept anything else but acquittal. The Iuventa, a former fishing vessel, is believed to have saved 14,000 people in total during its time on the seas. Its crews worked closely with the Italian marine coordination centre for search and rescue. They would find distressed smuggler vessels and pass those saved on to European military ships or the Italian coastguard. Klemp skippered the boat on two missions in the summer of 2017, when on one day alone up to 3,800 people on smuggler boats in distress were saved.

The Italian government railed against the large numbers of people being rescued and returned to their ports, and the lack of support from the EU’s other 27 member states. A deal was agreed with the Libyan coastguard, a group of militia, in which the EU would fund their operations to find and return those in the Mediterranean to Libya. Amid the political change, in August 2017 the Iuventa was seized at the port of Lampedusa and phones and computers onboard were taken. It later transpired that the crew had been bugged and that informants had been placed on other rescue ships. A captain of a search-and-rescue ship potentially facing up to 20 years in jail in connection with her role in saving 6,000 people from drowning in the Mediterranean has accused the EU of letting people die and the Italian authorities of criminalising solidarity. Pia Klemp, 35, who skippered the Iuventa, a vessel run by an NGO, stands accused with nine others of aiding and abetting illegal migration in relation to their role in seeking to rescue people in danger after fleeing the Libyan coast for Europe.

The evidence publicly produced by the Italian authorities for their claims that the rescuers collaborated with people smugglers was found wanting by academics at Goldsmith University last year. The Iuventa was seized two years ago and charges are yet to be laid.

Klemp, from Bonn in Germany, said she and her colleagues were preparing for a long, drawn out legal battle after recently being advised that prosectors were not going to drop the case and that it was likely to go to trial. Lawyers for the so-called Iuventa 10 have advised that the charges being considered carry a prison term of up to 20 years or a €15,000 fine for each person illegally brought to Italy. Matteo Salvini, the far-right interior minister, called last year for Klemp to be arrested for her role in saving migrants and refugees and landing them on island of Lampedusa, bypassing the Italian govern ment’s closure of ports. Sicily’s ‘doctor of migrants’ bucks far-right trend to win seat in EU elections. Pietro Bartolo, from the island of Lampedusa, finished second behind the League candidate. An Italian man known as the doctor of migrants on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa has won a seat in European parliament elections, bucking a trend towards the extreme right across the south of the country. Pietro Bartolo, who has dedicated years of his life to addressing the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, stood in Sicily for the centre-left Democratic party (PD), which presented him on the campaign trail as the last defence against the anti-immigration rhetoric of the extreme right. He finished second, behind the candidate for Matteo Salvini’s far-right League. Bartolo was born and raised on Lampedusa, a tiny island of around 6,000 people.

The closest point in Italy to the Libyan coast, from where many migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe set off. It was once seen as a haven for migrants and refugees, but patience among many of its residents has worn thin in recent years. It has been four years since Salvini set foot in Sicily and issued a public apology on behalf of what was then the Northern League for years of abuse directed toward southern Italians by his once separatist party, which had long dismissed them as parasites dragging down the country. The German government has asked the European commission to coordinate the handling of the Alan Kurdi to ensure the ship can arrive at a safe harbour.Two children, aged one and six, and their mothers were given permission by Italy’s interior ministry to land in Lampedusa for medical reasons but the women refused to disembark without their husbands. In a separate incident on recently, the NGO Alarm Phone said it had been contacted by someone on board a dinghy carrying 20 people off Libya. The person told Alarm Phone that eight people were missing and the rest would die if the NGO didn’t come to save them. On 27 March, the EU said it would stop its sea patrols in the Mediterran ean, which have rescued thousands of people, after the Italian government threatened to veto the EU’s entire operation in the waters.

Writer and Columnist