Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

Spain calls for legal action against Italy on migrants

The European Commission ought to take legal action against Italy for not allowing the disembarkation of Spanish rescue ship Open Arms and for "breaking the law", Spanish deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo has said.

Calvo also insisted that the commission must "take decisions" to have a coordinated European response for those rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

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"Italy cannot have their ports closed," she said in an interview with Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena Ser. 

"We have been talking with Italy all Sunday and all Saturday," explained Calvo, who called the work of the Spanish government "exemplary" for offering "all kinds of solutions."

"What else can we do?" she asked.

Spain's acting defence minister, Margarita Robles, added that the situation in the Mediterranean was "a tremendous political problem" and "it is essential that the European Union takes action."

Robles accused Salvini of putting human lives at risk for "absolutely electoral reasons" and classified the actions of the Italian politician as "a shame for all humanity."

"Quick disembarkation to the closest safe port is not just a humanitarian imperative, it is also a legal obligation under international maritime law," the special envoy of the UNHCR for the central Mediterranean situation Vincent Cochetel also said on Twitter.

According to Spanish press, the possibility to take Italy before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg remains unclear. 

But for Tove Ernst, a commission spokeswoman "it is the prerogative of member states to bring cases in front of the European Court of Justice or international courts".

Natasha Bertaud, another commission spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that the EU executive was working "to find a solution for the people on board of the Open Arms" and thanked Spain for offering a port for the safe disembarkation of the rescue vessel.

"We are urging all parties, including NGOs, to cooperate and ensure that the humanitarian imperative is what comes first and a solution is found because the priority should be to ensure that everyone on board can disembark as soon as possible," she added.

The crew of the Open Arms, a Spanish rescue boat with 98 people on board for the past 19 days, has declined to leave Italian waters and rejected the possibility to go to Spain because that would require five more days of sailing in an unstable situation. 

"We have exhausted physically, morally and technically the few resources that this organisation has at this moment," the Open Arms director and founder, Oscar Camps, told Reuters on Monday.

The Italian minister of infrastructure and transport, Danilo Toninelli, said later the same day that Italy could take all people on board to a Spanish port.

"[But] the NGO has incredibly refused [this offer], with an attitude that makes one suspect there is bad faith on their part," Toninelli said.

The head of the mission on the Open Arms ship, Anabel Montes, now insists on disembarking the 98 people on board in Lampedusa in Italy later today.

"I appeal to human [values]. We can't spend five more days on board, they have to go ashore, they are people," she said in a video published this morning in Spanish press. 

Several people have already jumped from the rescue boat into the sea to try to swim to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"Nine people dived into the water, in despair, in an attempt to reach the coast of Lampedusa. The situation is out of control," Open Arms said.

The Spanish Government has decided to send a naval ship, which will depart today at 5PM from the port of Cadiz, in order to help the Open Arms to transport rescued people to the nearest and safest port.

The military ship, called Audaz, is expected to arrive in Lampedusa in three days.

"After analysing different options and according to the Spanish navy's logistic recommendations, the government of Spain considers that this is the most appropriate [solution] and the one that will allow resolving this week the humanitarian emergency on board" the Open Arms ship, the government of Spain has announced in a statement.

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No EU country willing to open its ports for the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, with France and others turning to the European Commission for help.

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Open Arms may face a fine of up to €901,000 for doing "search and rescue" without authorisation, but rescuing people who are shipwrecked is a legal duty, the NGO says.

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