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NGOs say Malta should have ‘shown solidarity’ with Golfo Azzurro rescuers

Italy and Malta's decisions achieved 'absolutely nothing but more human suffering and pain' according to the Aditus and Integra foundations, and JRS Malta

Denise Grech
9 August 2017, 6:10pm
The Golfo Azzurro on a different rescue operation (Photo: Facebook/Proactiva Open Arms)
The Golfo Azzurro on a different rescue operation (Photo: Facebook/Proactiva Open Arms)
Aditus Foundation, Integra Foundation and JRS Malta have expressed their disappointment over the way Italy and Malta have treated the migrants and crew aboard the vessel Golfo Azzurro.

The NGOs argued that both countries relied on restrictive and questionable interpretations of the law in order to avoid disembarkation of the passengers, “achieving absolutely nothing but more human suffering and pain”.

The Golfo Azzurro, a vessel carrying three rescued people saved about 100 miles off the Libyan coast, has now been allowed to enter Sicily, according to Italian media reports. But the vessel was yesterday intercepted and turned back by the Italian Coast Guard as it made its way to Pozzallo. It remained in international waters during the night before starting to travel North again at 9.30am today.

Malta was toying with the lives and security of people as it attempted to resolve its own diplomatic disagreements, the NGOs said,

Criticisms were also directed towards suggestions that the crew would disembark in Libya, which the human rights organisations called “an absolute non-starter”. The decision would have exposed rescued migrants to the risks of loss of loss of life or of serious human rights violations, an unacceptable resolution to the impasse.

Aditus, Integra and JRS Malta said Malta had already made several calls for solidarity in dealing with refugee flows. Malta was in the prime position to show solidarity with Italy, they argued, a state that has solely hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants. “Solidarity is not a one-way street,” the NGOs said. "Malta is adopting a migration policy that is based on self-interest and disregard for human life."

The vessel, a trawler operated by Proactiva Open Arms – a Spanish NGO that carries out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean - had been left stranded in international waters after both Italy and Malta refused it entry. 

The vessel was originally believed to be operated by the Dutch NGO Boat Refugee Foundation, however a spokesman for the Dutch embassy said the vessel had recently shifted ownership to Proactiva Open Arms.   

Maltese authorities argued yesterday that since the rescue operation had taken place in an area making Lampedusa the nearest port of call, the vessel should have beeen taken to Italy. However Italian authorities, citing a breach of a new Code of Conduct for Search-and-Rescue NGOs introduced last week, refused the ship entry.