The word “selective” applied to people sounds disturbing. “I’m German, I’m not so young anymore and unfortunately the use of the word ‘selective’ takes me back to terrible pages of history”, says Petra Krischok, spokesperson for the NGO Sos Humanity, a few hours after being docked in Catania with the ship Humanity 1.
The ship’s commander, Joachim Ebeling, told the Italian authorities that the ship will not leave the port until the 35 people left on board after 144 have disembarked from the ship, and responded in a long email to the Italian authorities. that it “would have been illegal” under national and international laws to leave the dock without ensuring that all the castaways were ashore. Ebeling, 59, has extensive sea rescue experience.
It was not his first mission, but he would never have believed he was facing a “selective” landing of this kind. “I decided that the priority was the safety of the ship and of the people on board,” said the captain, following in the wake of other commanders of humanitarian ships who in the past disobeyed the orders of the Italian authorities to comply with international laws on rescue in sea, like Carola Rackete and Marc Reig.
After the docking of Humanity 1 at the eastern pier of the port of Catania around 11.30 pm on November 5th, in fact, minors were taken off the boat, including many unaccompanied, finally all adults were summoned to the clinic of on board and were examined on a case-by-case basis by the doctors of the Usmaf (Office of Maritime, Air and Border Health). “We don’t know what the criteria for selecting people were, they were very quick to decide who was healthy, after a quick and summary assessment,” explained Krischok. They said: “Yes, no”. But, continues Krischok, “we have never seen such a thing before”. Those who remained on board are in a state of depression: “A boy had a breakdown, he was taken away in an ambulance”.
At 11.30 the following day, the captain received the order to leave the dock with the 35 men considered unfit to disembark because they were in apparent health, but Ebeling refused to raise anchor. “Even if they are adults, even if they appear to be healthy, they are vulnerable people because they survived the crossing and have overcome a great deal of trauma and also have the right to seek asylum: the selection is arbitrary.”
A few hours later, the board of lawyers, which took charge of the ship, presented an appeal to the Administrative Court of Lazio (TAR) against the inter-ministerial decree received on November 4 and signed by the interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, by the minister of defense. Guido Crosetto and the Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini. The decree prohibited Humanity 1 from staying in Italian territorial waters longer than “necessary for rescue operations and assistance to people in emergency conditions and in precarious health conditions”.
The Piantedosi decree represents “a novelty” in the criminalization of rescue at sea:
“According to international law, a search and rescue operation ends with the landing of the survivors in a safe place. It is illegal to allow only a select few survivors to disembark. Furthermore, rejecting all others outside national territorial waters constitutes a form of collective refoulement and therefore violates both the European Convention on Human Rights and the principle of non-refoulement of the Geneva Refugee Convention, “commented Mirka Schäfer. advocacy officer of the NGO Sos Humanity.
The NGO also announced a legal action in the Catania civil court to guarantee the right of asylum seekers to access a formal procedure on the ground. Meanwhile, the Geo Barents of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also entered the port on 6 afternoon and was subjected to the same procedures. The disembarkation of the vulnerable ended around 9 pm and 214 people remained on board.
“There is a situation of great tension on board, many people with psychological problems and scabies problems”, says Riccardo Gatti, head of mission of Geo Barents. “We have two people in heavy conditions, there are doctors and an ambulance,” continues Gatti. “We received the communication to leave the port as soon as the so-called vulnerable disembarked, but we decided not to do so because for us the disembarkation is not finished yet”. There are still two ships at anchor in the port of Catania: the Ocean Viking with 234 people and Rise Above with 90 people.
According to the lawyer Arturo Salerni, defender of MSF and Open Arms in the ongoing trial against the former minister Matteo Salvini, the Piantedosi decree was written taking into account that in 2019 the bis security decree was challenged and canceled by an appeal to the TAR done right by the Open Arms. “The new decree tries to circumvent those problems that led to its cancellation,” says Salerni. “But it does not take into account the fact that in the meantime the law signed by Salvini was modified in 2020”, he continues.
For the jurist and expert in law of the sea Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, the Piantedosi decree represents “a novelty” in the criminalization of sea rescue: the strategy of issuing an entry ban into Italian territorial waters has been abandoned, as happened in the past. “This time the entry took place at the request of the Italian government which, however, with the Piantedosi decree set a deadline for the ship to remain in port”, says Vassallo Paleologo.
For the jurist, the decree violates the laws of the sea, for example the Sar Convention, which provides that the rescue ends with the disembarkation of migrants in a safe harbor. Furthermore, there would be an attempt to circumvent the Dublin regulation, the common European standard for the right to asylum, which provides that asylum requests are taken over by the first country of disembarkation, finally, Article 10.3 of the consolidated act on immigration, which provides that migrants rescued at sea are immediately transferred to a reception center hotspot for identification and initiation of asylum procedures.
It will take a few days for the TAR’s decision on the appeal presented by the NGO. For Fulvio Vassallo Palaeologus, the TAR should point out what in legal terms is called “lack of motivation”, because the Piantedosi decree in the premises does not mention two fundamental regulations such as the Dublin regulation and the Frontex regulation 656/2014, but instead mentions a European regulation “which was actually repealed in 2020”.
For the criminal lawyer Alessandro Gamberini, of the defense board of Humanity 1, the decree “agitates categories, those of order and security, which disregard immigration matters and does not take into account the recent sentences of the cassation, which clearly say that the right of asylum is also provided for those who have suffered torture and inhuman treatment in transit countries, not only in their countries of origin ”. And most of these people have passed through prisons in Libya.
Pending the ruling of the TAR, the Catania anti-racist network has convened a permanent garrison at the eastern pier of the port of Catania. They are the same ones who mobilized for the blockade of the Italian coast guard ship Diciotti in 2018. “Stop the attack on refugees” is written on a banner in English, attached to the eastern pier.
“We remind you that collective rejections are prohibited by international treaties ratified by Italy and therefore our country cannot make any arbitrary and approximate selection on the lives of these people. We invite everyone to keep their attention high in the next few hours and to show their solidarity with the migrants detained on the rescue boats in every way ”, say the activists in a statement.