Updated | ‘Hostage situation appears to be over’: Sea Watch reacts to new migrant sharing agreement

The migrants on board the Sea-Watch 3 are to be distributed among seven EU member states, including Malta and Italy • Sea Watch says Europe should be ashamed of itself for forcing the vessel loiter at sea for 10 days

The Sea-Watch 3 has been stranded off the coast of Sicily for 11 days
The Sea-Watch 3 has been stranded off the coast of Sicily for 11 days

Migrants on board the Sea-Watch 3 have been granted permission to disembark in Italy after six countries agreed to join Italy in sharing the migrants.

“The hostage situation seems to be over! After 10 days of loitering at sea, finally our guests might reach a safe haven,” the NGO said in a reaction on Twitter, adding however that despite the development, Europe should be ashamed of itself.

“Human rights must not be conditional to negotiations of the European Commission, what we need is a sustainable solution.”

Sea Watch chairman Johannes Bayer said the NGO was happy that their “guests”’ ordeal was now over, but insisted that it remained a shameful day for Europe. “Human rights are nothing that should be negotiated, and human beings are nothing that should be haggled about.”

The NGO’s statement comes as Italian media reported that an agreement had been reached for the 47 migrants on board to be distributed among seven willing states: Luxembourg, Germany, France, Portugal, Romania, Malta and Italy Itself.

This was confirmed by a government spokesperson who said Malta wanted to be a part of the solution as it had asked others to do in the past.

Earlier in the day, the NGO announced that the European Court of Human Rights had called on Italy to provide all the necessary assistance to the ship, which is currently off the coast of Syracuse. 

In a statement, the NGO said that after a complaint was filed in the name of the migrants and the crew of the ship, the ECHR had recognised a violation of rights and imposed interm measures.

Sea Watch said that ECHR has requested the Italian government “to take all necessary measures, as soon as possible, to provide the applicants with adequate medical care, food, water and basic supplies as necessary”. As far as the 15 unaccompanied minors are concerned, Sea Watch said the Italian government has been requested to provide “adequate legal assistance”.

The NGO said that Italy’s “unlawful blockade” had now entered the 11th day, and that while it acknowledged the ruling it was forced to insist that interim measures are not enough and that a solution was needed.   

The ship saved 47 people from a rubber dinghy off the coast of Libya on 19 January. Since then, it said Italian authorities had denied the ship and its rescues the mandatory port of safety. The health and safety situation on board the ship has continued to deteriorate.

“The hope after the rescue has turned into total depression and desperation,” Frank Dörner, the ship’s doctor was quoted saying. “Some people have stopped eating, shrinking to themselves, others become emotionally unstable. We had to recourse to the use of tranquilizers for some, but can only treat this insufficiently here on the ship.”

Dörner added that some of the migrants were traumatized and depressed and that the crew were fearing suicidal tendencies.

“We don’t know how much longer we can handle the situation. The psycho-physiological situation of these people is tied to the place they’re in and can’t escape. We’ve exhausted interim measures. We need a port of safety”

Sea Watch chairman Johannes Bayer said the NGO welcomed the decision from Strasburg since it showed that the court had “acknowledged a violation of fundamental human rights”.

“This is not enough: the ECHR demands bread and water. We demand an end to political hostage-taking.”

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