After five days at sea, 230 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya by a German NGO will finally be landed on the Mediterranean island of Malta.
This was announced on Tuesday by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who assured that his Maltese counterpart, Joseph Muscat, confirmed by telephone this decision if other countries of the European Union (EU) agreed to receive some of these people.
In addition to Malta and Italy, France and Portugal have already announced that they will host part of the group of migrants in their territories.
According to Conte, Muscat told him that “the boat will be investigated to find out its effective nationality [bears the flag of the Netherlands] and if the rules of international law have been respected.”
Following the recent experience of Aquarius boat, which was finally received by Spain with more than 600 people on board, the Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini -Qu ien called “human flesh” to migrants- celebrated the future outcome of this case.
“And two! After the NGO Aquarius went to Spain, now it’s up to the NGO Lifeline that will go to Malta, with this outlawed ship that will finally be kidnapped … For women and children fleeing the war the doors they are open, for the rest no!# stopinvasion, “Salvini posted on Facebook.
How a ship unleashed a crisis that threatens Europe’s most powerful government
Spain accepts to receive the Aquarius, the ship with 629 immigrants adrift that Italy and Malta refused to accept
Therefore, some of the most common questions since this crisis in the Mediterranean erupted are: who is responsible for hosting migrant ships?And can a country, in effect, legally refuse to receive them?
The lack of a European solution
Generally speaking, a country can close its ports in the exercise of its sovereignty ed and prevent a ship from entering its territorial waters (up to 12 miles from the coastline).
A vessel requires permission to enter the territorial sea of a country. Once inside, however, it can no longer be rejected by the authorities for the assistance needs that passengers may have.
But, in parallel with this right of rejection, the country must also comply with the international obligation to receive those who are in danger at sea.
In other words, many suggest that countries must find a balance between “responsibility” and “solidarity” to comply with all laws. And reaching an agreement on this balance will also be one of the keys to the European summit on migration to be held this Thursday in Brussels.
When the BBC asked the European Commission for details on the legal responsibilities of its members on the ships that transport migrants, the institution referred to this means to the conventions and international maritime laws in force.
Among them, is the International Convention for the Safety of Human Life in the Sea of 1974, which indicates that any ship that has knowledge of people in danger “must proceed with their assistance as quickly as possible”.
In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 says that every State that has a ship with its flag raised should require that the ship rescue those “in danger” at sea.
For its part, according to the International Maritime Organization, which helped define some of the principles governing the rescue tasks at sea, its members also have the obligation to “coordinate so that people rescued at sea land in a safe place as soon as possible”.
A question of definitions
The rules set on paper, however, have several interpretations when applied in practice.
One problem is usually how you define what is a situation of danger, according to Yves Pascouau, editor of the website of the European Migration Act which provides advice on asylum and immigration rules across the EU.
“This is a matter of interpretation,” he says.
The Aquarius, for example, was not in obvious mechanical difficulties as it approached Maltese and Italian waters, so these countries ” did not consider the definition of danger to be fulfilled “.
In addition, the Maltese authorities had provided some food and water to the people on board.
However, the ship was carrying more than one hundred unaccompanied minors and several pregnant women, many of them sleeping in the open.
The NGOs that operated the vessel argued that not allowing them to dock in Italy and having people on board spend more days at sea to get to Spain exposed them to greater difficulties.
There are also different interpretations of what is considered to take migrants to “a safe place”, and if that means exclusively landing on land.
“There is no obligation to receive survivors on land for a State responsible for a specific area of search and rescue or to coordinate rescue tasks,” says Ainhoa Campas Velasco of the Maritime Law Institute of the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom…
In the case of Aquarius, for example, it was Italy who was leading such work, since the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center of the Coast Guard of Rome is in charge of coordinating these actions when it receives an emergency warning in international waters of the Mediterranean more beyond the search and rescue zones of each country.
However, Campas Velasco points out that humanitarian considerations should also be part of search and rescue operations.
Human rights organizations say that migrants face serious dangers in Libya at the hands of militias and groups that smuggle people. They also argue that people fleeing war and persecution have the right to asylum.
However, it is important to remember that the reception of migrants seeking asylum in a country does not automatically translate into their permanence in it.
In the case of Aquarius, for example, Spain announced that migrants would be interviewed one by one to know if they are susceptible to the protection and warned that those who are economic immigrants could be expelled.
Discussions among European states on how to manage the flow of migrants have been a constant for several years, largely as a result of the rules that require refugees to apply for recognition of that status in the first EU country. that they arrive.
This, argue Italy and Greece, meant that they had to take responsibility for the vast majority of those who arrived by sea.
For this reason, the Italian prime minister already announced that this week he will present in Brussels a proposal based on the fact that “who disembarks on the Italian, Spanish, Greek or Maltese coasts, disembarks in Europe”, alluding to the responsibility of the bloc.
Italy, the destination of the majority of migrants from North Africa, requires EU sanctions for countries that refuse to accept a quota system such as the Visegrad Group – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – which refuses to receive immigrants from other states.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told the BBC that this type of vessel would never be admitted to the ports of his country and described the vessels operated by the NGOs as a “taxi service” for migrants.
Salvini criticizes the work of these organizations, on which he has already advanced, is considering taking measures to consider that they encourage the Libyan migrants to leave their country in an irregular manner by carrying out their boat rescues closer and closer to the coast.
In recent days, both Italy and Malta criticized Lifeline’s vessel on the grounds that it “ignored the instructions” when it was instructed not to intervene in the rescue because the Libyan coastguards were going to be ordered.
Hungary, led by populist and Eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, took a big step in that direction by approving last week – on World Refugee Day – a package of measures criminalize and punish those who help immigrants with prison sentences irregular.
Source: BBC Mundo