Archbishop visits impounded NGO rescue vessel, reiterates call for solidarity with stranded migrants

While acknowledging that migration required a European solution, the archbishop said it was a grave injustice for human beings to be used as bargaining chips

Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna stressed that negotiations should not come at the expense of the vulnerable
Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna stressed that negotiations should not come at the expense of the vulnerable

Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna this morning visited the MV Lifeline, the NGO-operated rescue vessel currently berthed in Grand Harbour where he reiterated his call for European solidarity on migration.

The MV Lifeline was impounded last summer after finding itself at the centre of an international dispute over a group of migrants it had rescued from within Libyan territorial waters. The ship’s captain is currently facing proceedings in court over the incident.

Scicluna’s visit comes as the European Commission, along with a number of member states, are working to coordinate the relocation of some 300 migrants who were rescued by Malta’s armed forces, as well as two NGO vessels – the Sea-Watch 3 and the Professor Albrecht Penck – in recent weeks.

The archbishop called on Europe to act quickly and save people who have been left at sea for days on end.

He acknowledged that the migration phenomenon required a European solution, but insisted that it was a grave injustice for people to fall victim to negotiations between European leaders.

“Human life is priceless and negotiations should never take place at the expense of people who are suffering,” Scicluna said.

Vilified and rejected by European institutions

The NGO that operates the vessel, in a statement, said it knew too well the dire humanitarian consequences that result from governments playing “port roulette” with the lives of others.

“We stand in fierce, unshakeable solidarity with our co-defenders of Human Rights at Sea,” read the statement.

“Just one month ago, we all met at the European Parliament seat in Strasbourg as nominees to The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In the blink of eye, we now stand vilified and rejected by the same political institutions who chose to praise our commitment to basic humane and European values.”

The NGO said that while it recognised the challenges of migration policy, it would not allow this “legitimate conversation” to be conflated with a desire to devalue human life”.

“Our rescue operations haven’t changed. Only the political system awaiting us back home,” the NGO said.

“As long as people continue to flee in search of freedom and safety, we will continue to extend our hand to them, in strict adherence to international maritime and human rights obligations.” 

READ MORE: Maltese bishops ask European counterparts for support over stranded migrants

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