Criticism of Italy’s choice of port of disembarkation
On Friday, May 21, 2021, the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 entered the port of Pozzallo. Shortly after, the first of the 400 rescued people, including 150 children, were allowed to leave the ship. The disembarkation is accompanied by racist comments of the official forces on site.
Chief of operations Jan Ribbeck comments on the conditions: “No proportionate and humane measures are taken here. An 8-month-old baby and toddlers had their noses swabbed while screaming.”
The crew had already asked for a port of safety on Monday. It was not until two days later on Wednesday evening that the Italian authorities responded and assigned the SEA-EYE 4 to Pozzallo, Sicily. At that time, the SEA-EYE 4 was several nautical miles away on the other side of the Mediterranean island just outside the port of Palermo. Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, had previously extended an invitation to the rescued people and crew to go ashore in his port.
“Due to the choice of the port of disembarkation Pozzallo, a great number of people had to spend two more nights sleeping on the steel floors of the SEA-EYE 4. EU countries are increasingly brutal in their treatment of people in need of protection and are harassing those who want to help them. It is simply appalling that Spanish soldiers are beating refugees back into the water and Italian parliamentarians are celebrating this in the context of our situation to propose the same treatment of our rescued people! Instead of fighting causes of flight, state actors are themselves attacking people who are fleeing. If the EU continues to tilt in this direction, then we can write off the 1951 Refugee Convention for good,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of the board of Sea-Eye e. V.
The allocation of the port of safety followed a few hours after a young man had to be evacuated from the SEA-EYE 4 by the Italian coast guard due to a serious heart condition. Malta had already refused to provide a port of safety to the rescued people and end their suffering at sea in a timely manner on Tuesday. The people now need a safe environment and access to medical care.
“The last seven days of our rescue mission have once more very clearly demonstrated the failure of the EU states. People regularly drown as they flee and thousands are forcibly returned to the civil war hell of Libya. No one in the governments of Europe seems to even think about respecting human rights anymore,” Isler said at the end of the rescue mission.
“We are glad that the first rescue mission of our new alliance ship has ended with such success. While EU states are abandoning fleeing people and condoning their deaths, civilians have joined forces behind us and are rescuing as many people as they can,” says Michael Schwickart, Vice Chairman of United4Rescue.
“We are happy that the medical care on board of the Sea-Eye 4 was successful and even an emergency evacuation was possible in time. We would like to thank our mission doctor Stefan Mees as well as the entire crew of the Sea-Eye 4 and our partners from United4Rescue for the successful rescue of more than 400 people. Now that the refugees have been allowed to go ashore, we appeal to the Italian authorities to allow them access to further medical and psychological care. This is indispensable, because many of the men, women and children are traumatized and in poor health,” says Dr. Christine Winkelmann, Executive Director German Doctors e. V.
The SEA-EYE 4 had rescued more than 400 people from boats unfit for the high seas in six rescue missions from May 14 to May 17, 2021. UNHCR reported that the so-called Libyan Coast Guard meanwhile prevented a total of 650 people from leaving the civil war country of Libya. Earlier media reports indicate that EU states are supporting these forced repatriations through their own task forces such as Frontex. The crew of the SEA-EYE 4 collected evidence on this themselves. On May 14, the crew reached an abandoned boat without any people, but during the operation they sighted a Frontex aircraft. And on May 17, the crew only became aware of a boat because a Frontex aircraft was circling not far from SEA-EYE 4, however, without directly informing Sea-Eye about the emergency at sea.
“I thank all of our partners, especially United4Rescue and German Doctors, who made this rescue mission possible and supported us in saving over 400 people from drowning,” Isler said.