Mediterranean migration crisis: experts disagree with Italian government
Boats chartered by NGOs in the Mediterranean cannot under any circumstances be turned back in international waters, migration experts have told EURACTIV, refuting the Italian government’s line.
Italy’s new government of Giorgia Meloni prevents migrants from disembarking from NGO ships – a tactic used by then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in 2018 – while allowing the selective disembarkation of those under consideration “vulnerable” by the Italian authorities.
Although women, children and people with health conditions were allowed to disembark, the presence of others on board created tension. The ships are demanding the immediate disembarkation of these people as some have gone on hunger strike and others have jumped boats in desperation.
Four boats carrying nearly 1,000 migrants arrived on the Italian coast last week. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said: “They have to return outside territorial waters and the flag state has to take care of them. »
These rescue ships are owned by private NGOs and the national flag displayed on the ship represents the country where they are officially registered, although they are deployed in the Mediterranean and does not represent their country of origin.
In fact, Mr Piantedosi’s reasoning has been challenged by UN agencies, as well as migration and human rights experts.
Once ships enter Italian waters, any return to international waters “would be tantamount to collective expulsion”Human Rights Watch’s Judith Sunderland told EURACTIV.
Piantedosi told a news conference on Friday (November 4) that the country whose flag adorns the ship rescuing the migrants is responsible for resettlement to that country – but not everyone agrees.
“Despite the Italian government’s claims that the flag states of NGO ships should be responsible for shipwrecked migrants, they are subject to Italian jurisdiction as long as they are in Italian seas.”PhD student and UN expert Francesco Negozio told EURACTIV.
“According to the law of the sea, a rescue ends when all rescued have disembarked in a safe place”said Mrs Judith Sunderland. She clarified that a partial disembarkation would not count as a completed mission.
The latter also questions the vulnerability assessments and length of migrant presence on the boat: “A ship is not a place of safety, except for a very short period of time, and it is not the place where real assessments of people’s vulnerability or their asylum claims can be taken into account.” she continued.
An unexpected move
While the Italian government remains obstinate, international attention is growing and calls are being made to resettle migrants to other EU countries.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Friday (November 4) BFM TV What « and what a beat [Ocean Viking] is welcomed, we will welcome part of the migrants, women and children, so that Italy does not bear the sole burden of this arrival of migrants.”.
Last week, Norway’s ambassador to Rome, Johan Vibe, told Reuters there weren’t any “no liability under human rights conventions or the law of the sea for persons on board Norwegian-flagged private or NGO vessels in the Mediterranean”.
The Ocean Viking and the Geo Barents are among the lifeboats involved in the incident and are both registered in Norway.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban congratulated the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni Sunday (November 6) on Twitter to protect the “Borders of Europe”.
However, the Hungarian leader did not respond to Ms Meloni’s request for the transfer.
Four years ago, when Mr. Salvini decided to stop the boats from docking, “A few EU member states have negotiated the relocation of rescued migrants boat by boat”Lucas Rasche, migration expert at the Jacques Delors Centre, told EURACTIV.
“However, this proved very inefficient as only 4% of the total number of arrivals were actually transferred from Italy to other EU countries.”he added.
In fact, according to research by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), less than 2% of migrants who arrived between October 2019 and May 2021 were resettled in other EU countries, while the number of arrivals continued to increase.
The EU and the international community
Relocation is one of the most sensitive points of the Pact on Migration and Asylum, one of the most important pieces of EU migration legislation currently being negotiated. According to the European institutions, this text should be adopted before the 2024 European elections.
The European Commission has welcomed “Disembarkation of vulnerable people” but said she was not “responsible for the operation” and pointed out “Member States have a duty to save lives and ensure they comply with their legal obligations.”
However, UN agencies, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) took a much tougher stance, demanding an immediate disembarkation on Tuesday (8 November).
As early as 2018, Mr. Salvini had blocked the disembarkation of migrants from various rescue ships. He was then put on trial in April 2021 and charged with kidnapping and negligence for refusing to disembark asylum seekers rescued by Spanish NGO Open Arms in Lampedusa in 2019.
“Mr Salvini has routinely denied NGO ships carrying migrants rescued at sea entry to Italian ports, using these man-made crises to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment within the Italian electorate”said Herr Rasche.
The process is ongoing while Mr Salvini is currently Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure.
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