A number of civil society organisations engaged in search and rescue (SAR) activities in the central Mediterranean Sea expressed concerns regarding the latest attempt by a European government to obstruct assistance to people in distress at sea.
ccording to HRAS, a new law decree, signed by the Italian President on 2 January 2023, will reduce rescue capacities at sea.
The decree ostensibly targets SAR NGOs, but the real price will be paid by people fleeing across the central Mediterranean and finding themselves in situations of distress
More specifically, HRAS claims that “the Italian Government has introduced yet another set of rules for civilian SAR vessels, which impede rescue operations and put people who are in distress at sea further at risk.”
Among other rules, the Italian government requests civilian rescue ships to immediately head to Italy after each rescue.
This delays further lifesaving operations, as ships usually carry out multiple rescues over the course of several days. Instructing SAR NGOs to proceed immediately to a port, while other people are in distress at sea, contradicts the captain’s obligation to render immediate assistance to people in distress, as enshrined in the UNCLOS
This element of the decree is compounded by the Italian government’s recent policy to assign ‘distant ports’ more frequently, which can be up to four days of navigation from ships’ current location.
The organizations further added that both factors are designed to keep SAR vessels out of the rescue area for prolonged periods and reduce their ability to assist people in distress.
Another issue raised by the decree is the obligation to collect data aboard rescue vessels from survivors, which articulates their intent to apply for international protection and to share this information with authorities.
It is the duty of states to initiate this process and a private vessel is not an appropriate place for this. Asylum requests should be dealt with on dry land only, after disembarkation to a place of safety, and only once immediate needs are covered, as recently clarified by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
For these reasons, the civil organisations engaged in SAR operations in the central Mediterranean, urge the Italian Government to immediately withdraw its newly issued law decree. They also called on all Members of the Italian Parliament to oppose the decree, thereby preventing it from being converted into law.
Signed by the following Search and Rescue organisations:
- Iuventa Crew
- Mare Liberum
- Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
- MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans
- MISSION LIFELINE
- Open Arms
- ResQ – People Saving People
- Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario
- Sea Punks
- SOS Humanity
- Watch the Med – Alarm Phone
Signed by the following related organisations:
- Borderline-Europe, Menschenrechte ohne Grenzen e.V.
- Human Rights at Sea