Dear Prime Minister Mario Draghi,
after yet another tragedy occurred in the Mediterranean last Thursday, we believe it is essential to ask you for an urgent meeting.
Every time a shipwreck occurs, we hope it will be the last. Also the tragedy of these days could have very likely been avoided. There are people who could have been saved. Instead, we could only watch helplessly the umpteenth disaster, the Ocean Viking arrived on site and found itself “sailing in a sea of corpses”.
In the more than 24 hours elapsed between the first Alarm Phone report and the tragedy, the Ocean Viking waited for an intervention of the maritime authorities to coordinate the operations, but despite the fact that the Italian, Libyan and Maltese authorities were kept constantly informed, this coordination did not take place, or at least did not involve the only rescue ship present at that moment. The fact that this failure was fatal is clear to everyone: over a hundred people lost their lives.
This, Prime Minister, is the reality of the Mediterranean. Since 2014, more than 20,000 men, women and children have died or disappeared in the central Mediterranean, which confirms its sad record as the world’s deadliest migration route. None of the agreements and measures adopted by states since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum has ever succeeded in decreasing the mortality rate. Since then, NGOs have tried to fill the void left by the states, but in the absence of a centralised, timely and coherent coordination of search and rescue, tragedies such as that of last Thursday are the consequences to be carried collectively on the conscience.
For a number of years, the intervention of civilian rescue ships was gratefully received by Italian and European authorities, with whom we collaborated continuously and effectively to reduce mortality in the Mediterranean. Then things changed: governments withdrew their ships and stopped coordinating rescues. Instead of being rescued and taken to a safe port, as international maritime law would have it, people began to be taken by Libyan authorities back to Libya, where they are subjected to arbitrary detention, violence and abuses of all kinds that have been widely documented. At the same time, NGOs have become the object of a fierce campaign of delegitimisation and criminalisation.
As reiterated by European Commissioner Von der Leyen herself, “saving lives at sea is not optional”, but a precise obligation of states, a legal obligation, therefore, as well as a moral one. As NGOs, we are at sea to fill a gap, but we would be ready to step aside if Europe was to set up an effective institutional and coordinated search and rescue mechanism whose primary purpose is to rescue people at sea.
Mr. Prime Minister, we ask you for a meeting to discuss what concrete initiatives can be taken by your government, involving Europe, to ensure coordinated and timely rescue operations, so that saving lives becomes a priority again and unacceptable tragedies such as the shipwrecks of these days are never repeated.
Alarm Phone, Emergency, Doctors Without Borders, Mediterranea, Open Arms, Sea-Watch, SOS MEDITERRANEE.