Several weeks ago, the Sea-Watch 3 rescued 52 migrants off the coast of Libya. The closest safe harbors were at Lampedusa, an Italian island, and Malta. Both refused to let the ship enter port.
For more than two weeks, they cruised aimlessly in international waters waiting for permission to enter port legally.
Only when conditions on board become inhumane, only when those rescued began thinking about committing suicide, did the crew force their way into port.
The captain of the ship, Carola Rackete, was arrested on charges of resistance and violence against warships and placed under investigation for aiding illegal immigration.
Four days later she was released to the relief of all of us who believe in our right and duty to help people in distress.
Judge acquits Carola Rackete
The judge, Alessandra Vella, considered Rackete’s resistance to the authorities as justified because she had a duty to save lives at sea.
The Italian judge argued that the port of Lampedusa was the right choice because Libya and Tunisia are not safe ports.
Other safe harbors, like France, Malta or Morocco, are simply too far and, according to international maritime law, rescued people are to be brought to the nearest port of safety.
Collective failure of the entire EU
What happened to Sea-Watch 3 and other rescue ships was a collective failure of the entire EU. The Dublin Regulation, which determines the member state responsible for the asylum applications of new arrivals, puts much of the burden on Italy, which is unfair.
We need more solidarity from other member states. The “coalition of the willing”, based on a voluntary participation of member states in relocating migrants and refugees, has been applied ship-by-ship. In the long-term, however, the EU needs to set in place a clear and fair disembarkation and relocation mechanism.
In 2012, Europe received the Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to the advancement of human rights. These rights apply to everyone and they certainly don’t just stop at Europe’s outer borders.