Seven days after the rescue of 47 shipwrecked off the Libyan coast, the last remaining rescue ship in the central Mediterranean Sea now is blocked off the coast of Sicily despite various cities offering a port of safety. On Thursday the mayor of the Italian city Syracuse, Francesco Italia, had declared the city’s port open, in collaboration with the local civil society, and asked the responsible authorities to allow the entry of the Sea-Watch 3. However the government, whose minister of interior is already under investigation for kidnapping, abuse of office and breaking the SAR convention in a similar case, currently prohibits the people from leaving the ship.
Without a safe port for the exhausted shipwrecked and awaiting a Mediterranean cyclone with waves of more than 7 meters, Sea-Watch on Thursday sought shelter to the east of the Sicilian coast, in those hours not affected by the worst part of the storm.
After receiving an invitation by the Mayor of Syracuse, available to welcome all 47 people, the Captain of the ship asked for permission to enter the port of the city. However once in proximity to the port, Sea-Watch got assigned a berth instead of a safe port which could allow the landing of shipwrecked people on board. The refusal to enter the port was notified without justification.
The ship therefore remains stuck at anchor 1.4 miles from the port of Syracuse without being able to allow due assistance on land to vulnerable people fleeing Libya and tried by days on the high seas.
After hours had passed without receiving any authorisation, Sea-Watch proceeded with a report to the prosecutor in Catania. The prosecutor, as required by law, asks for the immediate disembarkation of the 13 minors on board, emphasising that in this prolonged condition of discomfort, their rights are evaded.
However, on the Sea-Watch there are, in addition to minors, 34 other people with long periods of arbitrary detention in Libyan prisons in which they have suffered daily torture, abuse, physical and psychological violence.
After seven days on the ship, to go ahead with the landing of only a part of the shipwrecked people would be traumatic for those who would be forced to remain on board.
“My father died of a heart attack when I was a child. I left Guinea two years ago to help my family. In Libya, militias forced me to work 12 hours a day without interruption. They threatened me by pointing weapons at me while I was working. At the end of the day they often didn’t feed me,” says A., 16, from Guinea. “They killed one of my friends in front of me. He was killed because one morning he couldn’t get up to go to work.”
“It is in Libya that I met Yannik, with me on board, he is my “grand frère”. They’ve been taking care of each other since they were in Libya, A. explains.
Sea-Watch asks for an end to this odyssey that the 47 people on board are suffering. People, whose physical and psychological state is at stake and who immediately need assistance. Therefore we strongly ask for the immediate disembarkation of all shipwrecked people.
“This could have been a bright day for European solidarity after a very dark week: At least 170 people had gone missing – unverified reports from Libya speak of many more. Another 250 had been forcefully returned by the EU-funded, so-called Libyan Coast-Guard and two merchant vessels, violating the Geneva Refugee Convention.”, says Johannes Bayer, Chairman of Sea-Watch about the invitation to Siracusa. “We are grateful to the city Siracusa and its people for this great sign of solidarity. Similarly our thanks go to Palermo, Naples, Barcelona, Berlin, and all the other cities who joined the ranks of open ports and solidarity cities. This is the Europe we want to live in, a Europe of Solidarity.”, says Bayer. “Yet, apparently human rights in Europe only apply to people under 18 years of age these days.“, says Johannes Bayer, referring to the suggestion of a partial disembarkation of the 13 unaccompanied minors.