[WATCH] MOAS co-founder welcomes Italian investigation into funding of private rescue missions

Ambassador says Italian parliament's investigations into NGOs is ‘a routine exercise carried by two parliamentary committees’ and that there’s no ‘hidden agenda’

MOAS co-founder Regina Catrambone looks on as the Phoenix sails ahead (Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca)
MOAS co-founder Regina Catrambone looks on as the Phoenix sails ahead (Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca)

Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) co-founder Regina Catrambone has welcomed an investigation by the Italian parliament into the funding of search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, arguing that her organisation had always been upfront about its work.

MOAS is a Malta-based registered foundation dedicated to mitigating the loss of life at sea and Provides professional search and rescue assistance to refugees and migrants in distress at sea. It was set up in response to the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, when several hundred migrants drowned.

But as more humanitarian organisations joined in with their private search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean as thousands of asylum seekers continued to flee Libya in rickety boats, critics started to question their motives. In Italy, the parliament will investigate the financing of such NGOs after a prosecutor in Catania expressed his “doubts and perplexity” over the work carried out in rescuing migrants.

Catrambone said the results of the contribution of MOAS and other volunteer missions, along with the European Union’s official efforts, were there for all to see. 

Regina Catrambone (right) Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Regina Catrambone (right) Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

"As refugees continue trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean sea, the opening of legal refugee corridors is the only solution," Catrambone told MaltaToday.

"MOAS and other missions are doing invaluable work, saving lives, and there is a lot happening in the Mediterranean."

Asked if she was concerned at the news of an investigation, Catrambone said MOAS welcomed such scrutiny. 

"We have always cooperated with authorities in the three years since we set up our foundation and we will continue to do so," she said.

"We have no problem in accounting for our rescue efforts in the Mediterranean."

As to the frequently-brought up accusation of hidden agendas behind the efforts of NGOs in migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, Catrambone said she could only speak for MOAS. 

"We have always been upfront and frank about our objectives and missions," she said. "We have also always accounted for all the funding we have received these past three years and will continue to do so."

According to UNHCR’s representative to Malta Kahin Ismail, the Mediterranean refugee corridor remains a major pathway for migrants coming to Europe, and thousands of lives are saved every year at sea.

He was replying to questions on comments made last week by Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who is demanding that the Mediterranean refugee route be closed. The minister, who is due in Malta later on this week, insisted that the refugee policy along the Mediterranean-Italian route was "wrong".

Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

"I have no instruction on this delicate issue"

Italy's ambassador to Malta Giovanni De Vito told MaltaToday that the two countries will continue to cooperate closely in the migrant rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. 

As to whether Malta should start once again accepting refugees saved at sea, the ambassador noted that this was a 'delicate issue' that was often brought up in Italian media, but one for which he had "no official instruction". 

"But I am personally sure that if Malta and other countries, after internal consideration of the country's capabilities and infrastructure, decided to accept a number of refugees, it would be very well received by Italy," De Vito said.

"It might help contain the migrant arrivals to a smaller destination area than is currently the case, with migrants landing as far north as Calabria and Taranto."

He praised the contribution of the Armed Forces of Malta in EU missions and in assisting Italian forces operating in the Mediterranean. 

De Vito said that there was no hidden agenda behind the Italian parliament's investigations into NGOs and their finances and said this was a routine exercise carried by two parliamentary committees.