Italy Allows 65 Migrants to Land at Lampedusa


Published May 20, 2019 9:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Italian authorities have relented and allowed survivors from the migrant rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 to be transported ashore at the island of Lampedusa. The decision represents a departure from the course set by Italian minister of the interior Matteo Salvini, who staunchly opposes African immigration and has ordered Italy's ports closed to rescue vessels. 

“The ports are not closed, they cannot be closed. We have affirmed a legal duty, a moral duty, an act of solidarity: rescue at sea must be protected and defended,” said Giorgia Linardi, Sea-Watch’s representative to Italy.

While the survivors were allowed to disembark at Lampedusa, Sea-Watch 3 has been taken into “probationary confiscation” and was asked to proceed to the port of Licata.

"The . . . confiscation of our ship was as foreseeable as it is outrageous. We have not broken any law, on the contrary, we have once more upheld the law of the sea and the Geneva Refugee Convention, so we are confident this will lead to no further proceedings," said Sea-Watch 3 head of mission Philipp Hahn. "But this is a rescue ship, not a cruiser. Every day it is held in port, people may die.”

UN criticizes Italian policy

The landings occurred at about the same time that a group of UN human rights experts issued a joint condemnation of Italy's restrictive immigration policies. 

“We urge authorities to stop endangering the lives of migrants, including asylum seekers and victims of trafficking in persons, by invoking the fight against traffickers. This approach is misleading and is not in line with both general international law and international human rights law," six UN special rapporteurs wrote in a missive published by UN Human Rights. "Instead, restrictive migration policies contribute to exacerbating migrants’ vulnerabilities and only serve to increase trafficking in persons.”

Earlier this month, Salvini proposed a decree that would fine vessels for every person rescued at sea and taken to Italian territory. If the decree is approved and takes effect, vessels that rescue migrants could also have their licences revoked or suspended. The special rapporteurs warned that this policy - like several previous Italian directives - ignores the UNCLOS requirement that masters must rescue persons in distress and disembark them at a safe port.