Saturday

6th Jun 2020

NGO Mediterranean rescue standoff exposes EU rift

  • Sea-Watch is a German NGO, sailing under a Dutch flag (Photo: Sea Watch)

The Netherlands on Wednesday (3 January) said it was willing to take in some of the migrants stuck on a NGO boat in the Mediterranean - if other EU states are willing to do the same.

Some 32 migrants are on the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, currently moored off the coast of Malta after having been rescued late December near the Libyan coast.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Dutch offer highlights an ongoing debate among entrenched EU states unwilling to coordinate sea rescues, as migrants and refugees seek safety and better futures in an increasingly unwelcoming European Union.

Lennart Wegewijs, a Dutch spokesman from the security and justice ministry, said the country was ready "to possibly take in a proportional number of migrants who are on board Sea-Watch 3, on condition that other European countries do the same."

The Netherlands had initially refused, along with Italy, Malta and Spain, in a stand-off while conditions onboard the boat appear to be deteriorating amid a storm surge.

The European Commission says it has been in contact with a number of EU states to find a solution for those onboard the NGO boat, which include four women, three children, and four unaccompanied minors.

The youngest child is a one-year old.

A commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels that EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has been reaching out directly to member states in a bid to get the people off the boat.

"More solidarity of all member states is needed and the situation shows once again, as we have said many times, that predictable and sustainable solutions for disembarkation and allocation is urgently needed in the Mediterranean," said the commission spokeswoman.

The dangerous sea crossings have cost the lives of more than 2,240 people last year alone, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The agency says the rate of fatalities has increased since 2017, with one-in-18 people crossing to Europe between January and July lost at sea.

But the spike in fatality rates appears to have done little to curb government-led policies to render rescues at sea by NGOs more difficult.

Italy has closed its ports to the boats since last summer as Matteo Salvini, the far-right interior minister, squared off with Italian mayors who are more willing to help.

One of those mayors is Luigi de Magistris of Naples who said he was ready to open the city's ports to Sea-Watch, according to Italy's Ansa news wire.

"I hope this boat comes to the port of Naples because unlike what the government says we will put into the field a rescue action and we will let it into the port," he said.

A second vessel known as the Sea Eye, with 17 people on board, has also been trouble since late December.

The Sea Eye had refused to hand over the rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard, given the deplorable conditions in the country, and is now caught in limbo off the Maltese coast.

The Sea Eye says the crew and the migrants are suffering from sea sickness given the stormy conditions and that they are having to ration water and food.

Some 117,540 people crossed the Mediterranean last year from the north African coast, a fraction of the more than one million that made the same journey in 2015.

Spain, including its Ceuta and Melilla enclaves in northern Morocco, is now the main destination point for arrivals.

More than 60,000 arrived in the country last year, surpassing the combined total of both Greece and Italy.

Migrant death rate spikes despite EU 'safety' priority

Death rates of people crossing from Libya to reach Italy has spiked from 1 in 64 in the first five months to 1 in 16 in June and July alone. Yet the EU maintains their safety is a main priority.

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

Migration was overshadowed by Brexit at the EU summit, with leaders stuck on key legislation. Some warned that free movement could be at risk.

EU Commission floats 'Plan B' on blocked asylum reform

The European Commission wants EU states to voluntarily accept rescued asylum seekers - in a plan that would then phase out when the stalled reforms on the 'Dublin' regulation, which imposes relocation, are sorted.

Opinion

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

News in Brief

  1. Poland accused of 'blatant violation' of EU court injunction
  2. EU concerned by US approach to Kosovo and Serbia
  3. City morgues cast doubt on Putin's virus data
  4. ECB increases pandemic stimulus to €1.35 trillion
  5. New EU cloud computing platform 'moonshot'
  6. City of Berlin passes anti-discrimination law
  7. Iran hits record corona cases in second wave
  8. EU job losses tell tale of pandemic damage

New EU migration pact set for start of summer

The new EU pact on migration is set for publication sometime in June. Final tweaks are still underway as commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson says she remains cautiously optimistic on finding a solution to the most pressing issues.

EU sued for funding 'forced labour' Eritrea highway

The Dutch Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans has initiated a court case against the European Union for financing highway projects in an Eritrea where forced labour is rampant. The lawsuit comes amid a European Parliament debate on the funding.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  3. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  5. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition

Latest News

  1. EU warns UK to abide by Brexit political declaration
  2. Internal EU borders open by 15 June - bar V4, Portugal, Spain
  3. CAP 'failed to halt biodiversity loss', auditors find
  4. After Covid-19, deserted Venice struggles to survive
  5. Commission plans strategy to 'maximise' vaccine access
  6. How spies use women to steal EU secrets
  7. Hong Kong - when the Chinese Dream became a nightmare
  8. Right of reply: Letter from the Hungarian government

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us