Italy's targeting of NGO rescue ship shows 'reckless disregard for common decency'

By agency reporter
March 21, 2018

Following the Italian authorities’ seizure of a Spanish NGO rescue boat and the investigation of its crew for “criminal conspiracy aimed at facilitating illegal immigration”, after they refused to hand over to the Libyan Coast Guard refugees and migrants rescued in international waters off the Libyan coast, Amnesty International’s Europe Campaigns Director, Fotis Filippou, said, “The Italian authorities have shown a reckless disregard for common decency." 

“Rather than being criminalised for trying to save refugees and migrants who have fled horrific detention conditions and systematic human rights abuses in Libya, NGOs saving lives at sea should be supported.

“The Italian authorities are once more revealing where their true priorities lie: namely shutting off the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused.

“This appears to mark yet another step towards the outsourcing to the Libyan Coast Guard of the patrolling of the central Mediterranean.

“It is time for European governments to urgently reset their cooperation with Libya on migration. Their callous complicity with smugglers, criminals and torturers must end and the safety and the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants must be prioritised.”

The rescue vessel 'Open Arm' – operated by the Proactiva Open Arms NGO – was seized on 18 March 2018 in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo and the Italian authorities have said they are investigating the group for suspected criminal association aimed at aiding and abetting “illegal” immigration.

Marking a significant departure from previous rescue operations in the central Mediterranean which are usually coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, the Italian authorities say that the rescue operations in international waters were conducted under the coordination of the Libyan Coast Guard, who have recently received speedboats, training and further assistance from various European governments and institutions. 

Refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are disembarked in Libya and immediately transferred to detention centres where serious human rights violations – including arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment – and exploitation have been widely documented. 

Amnesty is insisting that European governments should make any support for the Libyan authorities conditional on ensuring that Libya bring an end to its use of indefinite arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and that it recognise the UNHCR and allows it to exercise its full mandate in the country. European governments must also provide sufficient resettlement opportunities for refugees stranded in Libya, establish reliable monitoring of the operations of the Libyan Coast Guard, and – most importantly –  ensure people rescued at sea are not taken back to Libya until the protection of their rights can be guaranteed.

* Amnesty International


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