A NATO ship leaves dozens of migrants dying at sea in the Mediterranean

Press release
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Italy complains that NATO didn’t force the migrants back to Libya

[rouge]Joint Statement with [rouge]Migreurop[/rouge]

5 August 2011 - During the night of 4 August, an Italian coast guard patrol rescued almost 400 people aboard a boat that had left Libya 6 days previously and was lost for more than 36 hours off the coast of Lampedusa. Arriving in Lampedusa, migrants declared that many of those aboard had tragically died of hunger and fatigue during the voyage and dozens of bodies had been thrown over board. [1]

The migrants first attempted to board a Cypriot tug boat, then an Italian helicopter made an unsucessful rescue effort. According to numerous reports, a NATO ship was only 27 miles from the ship in distress, while Italian coast guard patrols travelled 90 miles to rescue the migrants.

The Italian government called for the opening of an investigation to clarify why the migrants were not rescued by NATO, which - for the Italian government - would also have meant that migrants would have been returned to their port of departure. On 2 August, the Italian Senate approved a proposal that commits the Italian government to requiring Atlantic Alliance boats to block migrant ships in the Strait of Sicily and to return them to African coasts. Yesterday, the President of the Northern League Committee at the Italian Senate, Frederico Bricolo confirmed this position in a statement to the press, declaring that it was urgent that NATO begin to « block migrants leaving Libya et return them to the African coast in order to stem the number of deaths » along European coasts.

Italy thereby ignores established principles of the Law of Sea: any person in danger at sea must not only be rescued, but must also be disembarked in a safe and secure location. Disembarking asylum seekers and refugees in territories where their lives or safety may be threatened is clearly prohibited. The need for protection and the principle of non-refoulement must be respected both by NATO and Italian authorities.

Yet, failure to assist migrants in danger seems to be the rule in the strait of Sicily, where more than 2000 deaths have occurred since the beginning of 2011.

This latest incident demonstrates once again that the obligation to provide assistance at sea will be respected only so long as migrants are sent back to the country from which they are fleeing. On 11 July 2011, a Spanish NATO vessel rescued over 100 migrants, only to return them to the coast of Tunisia after not a single European nation would accept them.

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