The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Migration - War on NGOs is almost won

Saturday, 1 September 2018, 10:36 Last update: about 2 years ago

The war on migrant rescue NGOs has entered its final stages and is almost won with only one volunteer group left to patrol the seas off Libya.

This week, the Spanish migrant rescue NGO Proactiva Open Arms announced that its vessel would quit Libyan waters and head for the strait of Gibraltar, to help with the crisis there. Spain has been bearing the brunt of Mediterranean migration lately.

But the NGO said there was another reason why it had stopped patrolling the stretch of sea between Libya and Italy and Malta; it is fed up with the “criminalization” of aid.

"The intense campaigns of criminalisation of NGOs in the central Mediterranean and the launch of inhuman policies have caused not only the closure of Italian and Maltese ports, but the paralysis of many humanitarian relief organisations, at the same time as a rise in the number of migrants arriving near the south of Spain," the NGO said in a statement.

The move comes after weeks of tension,  mounting aggression against NGOs and several stand-offs that have seen rescued migrants remain stranded on board their rescue ships for days while countries argue over who should take them in.

In June, at the height of migration, Malta seized the MV Lifeline, which is operated by a German NGO, and closed its ports to all NGO operations. Two other ships, the Sea Watch and Sea Eye, which were resupplying in Malta, were also locked in the Grand Harbour.

Suddenly there were three fewer vessels saving lives on the Mediterranean.

While sea crossings have decreased greatly over the past few years, the numbers are still high. The International Organisation for Migration said this week that over 1,500 migrant drowning have been reported. It is believed that the official figure is much higher.

Apart from impounding the Lifeline and the other two vessels, the government also launched an investigation into the NGO model, to see if any international laws were being breached. Over two months later, that investigation is still ongoing.

The captain of the MV Lifeline was also taken to court on baloney charges related to the vessel’s registration, and the case is being unnecessarily prolonged. The magistrate presiding over that particular case admitted with the captain in the last sitting that the case should not have taken more than one week.

Now, another NGO has been put out of action, because it feels that it cannot keep operating in such a hostile environment.

The only ship that is still operating in the Central Mediterranean is the MV Aquarius, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee. But that ship is currently undergoing repairs and maintenance in Marseille, which effectively means that no NGO vessels are operating in the Central Med as of this time.

While it is understandable that governments want to ensure that all laws are being observed, particularly if a breach of those laws can lead to serious diplomatic stand-offs, human life should always be placed above everything else. While these investigations, court cases and summits are taking place, people are still dying at sea. Unfortunately the tragedy does not pause for discussions.

It is clear that the international community has not dedicated enough maritime resources to avoid senseless tragedy. These NGOS were filling that void, but they are being stopped one by one. Soon there will be none.


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