Today, the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council announced that their Member States have discussed a “pilot project” regarding a mechanism for disembarkations in places of safety in the central Mediterranean. Yet, none of its modalities have been specified. While SOS MEDITERRANEE commends the willingness of several European states to find solutions for stand-offs of rescue ships not to occur again, we are disappointed that concrete and practical elements for the immediate implementation of such a mechanism have not been clearly exposed.
“Where will we disembark next? Sixteen months after the first blockade of the Aquarius, we regret that concrete terms of a coordinated, predictable and swift disembarkation mechanism have not been clearly set out, today”, says Frédéric Penard, Director of Operations at SOS MEDITERRANEE. “Those are absolutely essential to put an end to ad hoc agreements for humanitarian rescue vessels, which have been unnecessarily blocked for days at sea with survivors on board”, adds Frédéric Penard.
SOS MEDITERRANEE also recalls that such European initiatives must go further in order to prevent human tragedies from recurring in the central Mediterranean, ahead of the disembarkation phase. The situation in the Central Mediterranean is currently catastrophic, due to the total lack of coordination in the Libyan Search and Rescue (SAR) area and not enough SAR capacity leading to more and more people dying at sea.
“During the first two Ocean Viking missions, whenever we tried to inform the Libyan and European maritime authorities of boats in distress, we were faced with either non-existent or very late coordination. The Libyan maritime authorities have repeatedly assigned a Libyan port to the Ocean Viking to disembark the survivors – which we have always refused, in accordance with maritime law, as these ports cannot be considered places of safety”, adds Frédéric Penard. Will we still have to face long standoffs adding more suffering to the rescued people, waiting to be assigned a place of safety?”
“The European Sophia mission is being renewed for six months, but without it being equipped with ships. The Libyan coastguard, funded by the European Union, continues to systematically bring back people they intercept at sea to Libya. Sending these human beings back to the Libyan hell they tried to escape from is simply unacceptable,” says Sophie Beau, co-founder and vice-president of SOS MEDITERRANEE. “We urge European Member States to finalise discussions that have taken much too long at the cost of human lives”.
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