Days after first requesting a POS (Port of Safety), with 11 requests now made, Malta and Italy have still not given a positive response to Humanity 1’s request to land. A seven-month-old-baby and 100 unaccompanied minors are amongst those on board.
The medical conditions of those on board are serious. One individual was airlifted on 27/10, and a flu-like infection has been spreading. SOS Humanity report that “Several of the survivors carry traces of violence they suffered on their journey, including wounds from gunshots and beatings.”
MSF’s ship — the Geo Barents — rescued 268 people within four hours, from four different vessels, within Malta’s SAR zone. The Maltese government’s inaction is becoming habit, and MSF write that:
“We are outraged that the Armed Forces of Malta has neglected its legal obligation to coordinate the rescues and provide assistance, even though the relevant authorities have been informed from the very first moment.”
Whilst temporarily safe aboard the Geo Barents, the lack of allocated safe ports is becoming a worrying feature of NGO rescues in the Mediterranean — workers aboard the ship come under increasing pressure as time goes on: supplies dwindle, medical needs increase and fatigue sets in. Furthermore, the time delays before landing enforced by EU nations not only acutely impact all those on board, but restrict the availability humanitarian vessels have to complete rescues, and subsequently restricts the number of people they might reach.
“There are currently another two other humanitarian vessels with hundreds more irregular migrants who were rescued in international waters between Libya and Malta — SOS Méditerranée’s Ocean Viking with 234 on board and SOS Humanity’s Humanity 1, which is carrying 180 rescued people aboard. None of the ships have, however, been able to make port anywhere nearby as of Sunday afternoon.
MSF’s Geo Barents was west of Malta and south of Sicily, the Ocean Viking was west of Malta and south of Sicily and the SOS Humanity was well north of Malta and east of Sicily with, between then, hundreds of rescued irregular migrants aboard needing to reach terra firma to receive proper care.”
With Giorgia Meloni’s more right-wing Italian government in power, Italy is once again closing its ports to NGO ships. This happened before, between 2018 and 2019, when there were “major standoffs between the Maltese and Italian governments over responsibility for rescued irregular migrants.”
On Twitter, Matteo Salvini wrote (referring to Ocean Viking and Humanity 1) that: “The first has a Norwegian flag while the second is German. Let NGOs set course for their countries, not Italy.”
The deflection of humanitarian obligations in the Mediterranean SAR zone is reflective of an overall trend, with Italy following Malta’s stance of non-action: choosing to look away. As pressure increases on asylum reception systems in Europe and humanitarian operations at sea, the answer to the question of ‘what happens next?’ looks increasingly frightening.
This article originally appeared in Are You Syrious?
Image by Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity