The political offensive against monitoring and rescue missions in the Mediterranean continues: Now the civil reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird was blocked from operations as well. The aircraft is operated by Sea-Watch and the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative (HPI) and is supported by the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD). The Maltese authorities do not allow any kind of monitoring operations. From now on, no monitoring flights in the search area north of the Libyan coast are possible anymore. Since operations started, Moonbird was involved in monitoring countless human rights violations and was involved in coordinating the rescue of 20 000 people. More than 1000 would have drowned if the Moonbird Crew would not have found their sinking boats in the last minute.
“There is no permit issued for any type of search and rescue operations,” the Maltese authorities informed the Moonbird project earlier this week. Reasons or a legal basis for the no-fly were not communicated. The Moonbird operated over a year almost daily from Malta, always in the best cooperation with the Maltese authorities and the Italian Coast Guard, sometimes even under their explicit command. Sea-Watch e.V. is also a member of the International Maritime Rescue Federation, which also includes the Maltese Army and the Italian Coast Guard. The Cirrus SR22 single-engine aircraft is equipped with special safety systems and is ideally suited for use over the open sea; it meets all legal requirements.
“The political leaders should be clear on what this flight ban means: The people on the boats are not saved, but drown unseen,” says pilot and HPI founder Fabio Zgraggen. “About 1,000 people would have died last year if we had not found them at the last minute and had not informed the authorities. Since civilian rescuers are no longer allowed to help, we are witnessing a massive increase in casualties.” He recalled that more than 3 shipwrecks have occurred since Malta prevented civilian assets from leaving, and more than 500 died since the Italian Foreign Minister Salvini has closed the ports of Italy. All in all, more than 1,400 people died this year.
Moonbird Commander Ruben Neugebauer strongly condemned the political rationale behind the decision of the Maltese government: “Obviously, they don’t want independent witnesses documenting the dying and the human rights violations on the Mediterranean. The European public should not know how barbarically the isolationist policy is enforced at the external borders. They don’t want any evidence of how people are drowning or how the so-called Libyan Coast Guard is acting. “The deaths of the people are accepted because they are intended to have a deterrent effect on other refugees”, says Neugebauer. But dying would continue as long as European governments did not address the root causes of migration and flight and set up legal and secure access routes. “In Europe, we can only come together to find solutions in refugee policy,” said Neugebauer. Not only Sea-Watch, but numerous other international human rights organizations demand that.
The air reconnaissance project is largely made possible by the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD), that also supported the purchase of the aircraft. Therefore, also Manfred Rekowski, President and Pastor of the Evangelical Church Rhineland and Chairman of the Chamber of Migration and Integration of the EKD, criticised the actions of the Maltese authorities: “Especially now, where the ships of the civilian rescue fleet are systematically blocked, it needs observation from the air: so as not to lose sight of the dying on the Mediterranean, so that salvation can happen and also so that we can independently inform ourselves what is happening on the water between Libya and Italy. The least we can do is precise observing. After all, not less people would die just because there were no more pictures and reports”, Rekowski clarified. “Such a political approach to human rights organizations, arbitrary prohibitions or confiscations we know otherwise only from other parts of the world. In the middle of Europe, in the legal area of the European Union, this is a scandal.”