An international aid body slammed the EU member states for not taking in 47 migrants stranded on a charity rescue boat.
The Sea-Watch 3, a Dutch-registered vessel run by the German nongovernmental organization (NGO) Sea-Watch, rescued the migrants north of the Libyan port of Zuwarah on Jan. 19. It entered Italian waters on Friday to seek shelter from rough seas. The Mediterranean nations of Italy and Malta have both refused to let the vessel dock.
"How is it possible that 47 people can pose such a threat to the entire European Union? Saving lives must be the priority of all governments," said Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
While EU governments should find a durable solution that prevents further migrant deaths at sea, Italy should let the migrants disembark, Rocca demanded in a statement from Geneva. He pointed out that castaways are legally protected even in times of war under the Geneva Conventions.
"There is no war today in the Mediterranean Sea: The European Union is at peace. And yet no one is protecting the lives of people escaping torture and rape in Libya," Rocca said, referring to the inhumane treatment that many migrants suffer as they transit the North African country.
The migrants, stranded on a charity rescue boat off the coast of Sicily, will be allowed to land in Italy only if they are immediately transferred to Germany or the Netherlands, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said yesterday.
"Disembarking the migrants? Only if they will go on to the Netherlands, which gave a flag to the Sea-Watch, or Germany, the NGO's state. In Italy we have already welcomed, and spent too much [on migrants]," Salvini tweeted.
The Sea-Watch is anchored about 2 kilometers off Syracuse, in eastern Sicily. Opposition lawmakers are taking turns into boarding on the boat to check conditions aboard, and to appeal for the migrants to be let off the boat.
To unblock the stalemate, Sea-Watch has lodged an urgent complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. The Italian prime minister's office said Monday it would argue before the court that it is up to the Netherlands to deal with the NGO ship and its migrants.
Sea-Watch has launched interim measures "in the name of the crew and one rescued individual," spokesman Ruben Neugebauer said.
"We can no longer accept that the European states are jointly breaking the law of the sea and we cannot accept that sea rescue is made conditional on EU negotiations," he added in a statement shared via WhatsApp.