Migrants rescued by Dutch ship allowed to enter Italy

Refugees on a Sea Watch ship
Refugees on board the Sea-Watch 3 rescued from a ship sinking near Libya. December 2018Photo: Chris Grodotzki / Sea-Watch

The Italian authorities allowed dozens of migrants rescued by aid organization Sea-Watch ashore in Lampedusa on Sunday, apparently against the will of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The ship, the Sea Watch 3, was confiscated by the Italian police.

The Sea Watch 3 sails under the Dutch flag. Sea-Watch said on Twitter that Italy allowed the 47 migrants still on the ship to go ashore on Sunday, along with a short video showing people boarding an Italian coast guard ship. 

On Saturday the Italian government allowed 18 of the total 65 migrants on the ship ashore. These were mainly children and their parents, Sea-Watch said in a press release. The other 47 people, including 8 unaccompanied minors, a pregnant woman and a disabled person, had to stay aboard and the Italian government banned the Sea Watch 3 from entering Italian territorial waters. The organization ignored that ban due to an emergency situation on board. Crew members could no longer guarantee the psychical and mental health of the people left behind on the ship. 

"The Italian authorities have allowed the landing of our remaining guests. We are glad that the Constitution in Italy has more power than a minister who, according to the UN, breaks the law", Sea-Watch said on Twitter on Sunday. "Our thanks go out to the Italian population!"

Italian Minister Salvini apparently received some criticism for not also taking the 47 remaining migrants. "As far as I am concerned, even if the ship was seized, there will be NO landing", he wrote on Twitter. "Everyone with a different opinion must take responsibility for it." 

Sea-Watch rescued a large part the migrants off the coast of Libya in December. They've been stuck at sea since. In April he Dutch government implemented stricter rules for ships used to rescue refugees and other migrants from the sea, to make sure that the ships and their crew are equipped to care for the people on board for longer periods. 

Sea-Watch was not pleased with the new rules. "It is incomprehensible that our own flag state is trying to undermine our work, while we consistently show that we have a very well-equipped rescue ship that exceeds mandatory safety standards" Sea Watch president Johannes Bayer said. 

Regarding the Ministry's concerns about the safety of the people on the ship, Bayer said: "We cannot be held responsible for the current state of rescued people being held at sea for too long in an inhumane manner. However, the situation points to the culpability of certain European states abusing their power. With the next rescue a long impasse is probable, but it remains unacceptable. Blocking our ship for safety reasons is a fundamentally illogical argument when the alternative is to let people drown."