Again, a cynical power struggle is carried out at the expanse of refugees rescued in distress. The humane treatment for 102 protection seeking men, women and children is not an issue. Their life and their physical integrity are of no importance in this military blockade in international waters near Malta.
PRO ASYL states: There is no “safe harbor” for refugees in Libya. After the era of Gaddafi, protection seekers are still exposed to severe human rights violations there. If European states force the tanker to return to Libya, human and refugee rights of the rescued boat people would be violated.
The harsh handling of the boat and the crew of the Salamis is meant as a deterrent. In this part of the Mediterranean Sea more than 3.000 boat people have drowned in the last two years. In many cases it has been documented that police, military and commercial vessels had neglected rescue from distress. Threatening the tanker Salamis with military force sends out a fatal message to other boat crews again: look away, carry on, and avoid problems with people in distress.
An end of European indifference in view of thousands of deaths would be a first step towards developing a common policy for the reception of boat people. It would be a clear rejection of the push-back policy to Libya.
In the night of Sunday to Monday, 102 refugees in distress at sea were rescued by the crew of the tanker “Salamis”. The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre had instructed the vessel to rescue the distressed persons. After the rescue the Italian authorities instructed the ship to proceed to a “place of safety” in Libya for the disembarkation of the rescued refugees. Instead the tanker took course for Malta and is currently prevented from entering Maltese waters by the Armed Forces of Malta. The survivors of the shipwreck, amongst them 20 women and a baby, are stuck on the tanker. According to the ship’s operators, the crew won’t be able to provide for the refugees any longer.
The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) of 1979 obliges ship crews to bring rescued persons to a “place of safety”. In the annex it is specified that this place cannot be defined solely by geographical location. Protection seekers and refugees recovered at sea may not be disembarked in territories where their lives and freedoms would be threatened. The International Maritime Organization emphasizes this in the Resolution MSC.167(78), 6.17 of the Maritime Safety Committee. In Libya refugees are at risk of suffering severe human rights violations. A functioning asylum system that protects refugees doesn’t exist.
The Italian authorities instructing the ship to disembark rescued protection seekers there, appears to be an attempt to illegally push back protection seekers to Libya by using a commercial vessel. This would mean a breach of the principle of non-refoulement.
According to Malta Today, some refugees who had been rescued by a Turkish ship in the same night, had been brought back to Libya in accordance with the instructions of Italian authorities.