UK

Refugee Rescue Missions In Mediterranean Near Libya Face Suspension Unless Row Resolved

Suspension would likely have fatal consequences.

28/07/2017 20:42 BST | Updated 28/07/2017 22:28 BST

CATANIA, Sicily - Charities face having to suspend missions to rescue migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, unless a row with the Italian government can be resolved by Monday.

The organisations, including Save the Children and SOS Méditerranée, have said they have concerns over proposed rules which would force them to sail with armed police onboard.

They argue this would breach their neutrality and place further stress on the rescued.

Other points of contention include a total ban on entering Libyan waters and transferring migrants from one rescue ship to another, something they say is necessary when operating at sea in vessels with limited capacity. 

Save The Children
Rescued children disembark in Sicily this morning.

A meeting on Friday between the NGOs and the Italian Interior Ministry ended with an understanding that a revised code of conduct would be drafted for both sides to look at on Monday.

Speaking to HuffPost UK in the Sicilian port of Catania where many of the search and rescue operations depart, Valeria Calandra, President of SOS Méditerranée Italia, said she hoped an agreement would be reached.

She said: “Today the meeting was quite cool and very friendly and they examined all of our proposals, so I don’t believe that we won’t reach an agreement.

“The only critical position is the presence of the police on board which of course is very difficult to adopt for many reasons.”

There are fears the suspension of rescue missions would have fatal consequences on the migrants making the perilous trip from Libya to Italy.

On the same day that the Italian government was holding talks with the NGOs, a Save the Children ship was disembarking in the Sicilian port of Trapani after rescuing hundreds of migrants and retrieving 13 bodies of those who did not survive the journey. 

Save the Children
A body of a migrant recovered from an over-crowded rubber dinghy is lifted aboard the Save the Children ship.

Around 90,000 have been brought to Italy this year on top of the half a million brought over the three previous years.

More than 2,200 others have died.

If the NGOs don’t agree to the code of conduct, Italy’s Coastguard would still operate but without NGO cooperation rescue ability in the Mediterranean will be severely reduced.

Italian officials fears rescue ships are making it too easy for people traffickers to operate and actually act as an incentive for migrants to make the perilous journey.

An Italian court has also suggested they collude with Libya-based traffickers, a charge which the charities have denied.

The talks and possible suspension of rescues is not related to the Far Right Defend Europe mission, which intends to disrupt NGO rescue efforts.

It has only just left Cyprus after being detained for a second time.