An unseemly row has broken out between the Italian and Dutch governments over who is responsible for 47 refugees saved after their craft sank 10 days ago. Some 50 refugees and migrants drowned.
Seawatch – a maritime rescue organisation working in the Mediterranean – has appealed to both sides to come to an agreement about what to do about the men, women and 13 children, now on board their vessel Seawatch 3.
The boat is effectively stranded: moored 1.4 miles off the coast of Sicily.
The mayor of the Sicilian port of Syracuse says he would welcome the survivors, but the Italian authorities have refused permission to land.
Instead, the captain of the rescue vessel, Captain Jeroen, has been instructed by the Italian government to find another port to take the refugees. The Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini has threatened to take legal action against the crew accusing them of supporting illegal migration.
Mr Salvini told the Dutch authorities they are responsible for the fate of the refugees, since Seawatch 3 is registered in the Netherlands.
But this is not happening, as Jelle Goezinnen, spokesman for Seawatch, explained, since the Dutch have refused.
“The Dutch government says it has no responsibility to find a port at which the 47 can be landed,” says Jelle Goezinnen. “But its clear under the Search and Rescue Convention, which is legally binding, that the responsibility for finding a port is a shared between the coastal state (Italy) and the flag state (the Netherlands.)”
A delegation of Italian Members of Parliament visited the asylum seekers on Sea Watch 3 on Sunday. The delegation consisted of Nicola Fratoianni, Riccardo Magi and Stefania Prestigiacomo, the Mayor of Siracuse Francesco Italia, as well as doctors and lawyers. The MPs called for an immediate disembarkation of the 47 survivors.
Professor Mirjam van Reisen from Tilburg University argues that Sea-Watch is operating within the law to save lives. “The Italian prosecutor confirmed this,” she says.
“While Italy must open its harbours, as local ports are ready to receive the ship, the Netherlands should help to shoulder the responsibility. Many of the victims of the shipwreck are minors and most, if not all, are victims of human trafficking in Libya and need protection.”