Sunday

7th Jun 2020

EU unable to comment on Italy and Malta port closures

  • The Aita Mari has 43 migrants onboard but nowhere to take them. (Photo: Aita Mari)

The European Commission says it cannot comment on decisions by Italy and Malta declaring their ports unsafe for rescue ships.

"We are not in a position to make a comment of a legal nature on this particular case," a European Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (14 April).

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 spokesperson said the EU institution has no competence to determine whether a port is safe.

Italy and Malta made the announcement to seal the ports following the outbreak of the pandemic triggered by Covid-19. Libya's UN-recognised government in Tripoli did the same.

The closures mean NGO rescue boats are unable to disembark migrants, amid contested reports that some have since drowned.

Germany's Sea-Watch International on Monday said that at least three boats with some 150 migrants have been in distress for days.

"No state wants to rescue them," it said, noting a fourth boat had sunk.

Alarm Phone, an organisation that provides support to people fearing for the lives at sea, says some of those scrambling for help are women and children.

At least one is a pregnant woman who had been rescued, along with 42 other people, by the Spanish-flagged charity vessel, Aita Mari.

The boat had been en route to return to Spain from Sicily when it was diverted towards a distress call on Monday.

"Malta denies us safe harbour," it then said, in a Tweet on Tuesday, noting however Maltese authorities had agreed to provide it with extra food, vests and water.

Malta, Libya and EU aid

Malta in turn is demanding the EU to launch an immediate €100m humanitarian operation in Libya.

In a letter to the EU's foreign policy chief, Malta's foreign minister Evarist Bartolo says the situation in Libya is snowballing into a major humanitarian disaster.

He said all of Malta's resources are currently being channeled into dealing with pandemic, noting that the island-nation had disembarked close to 4,500 migrants in the past 12 months.

"The situation urgently requires tangible and decisive action which, in our view, must comprise an urgent EU humanitarian intervention in Libya," he said.

For its part, a spokesperson from the EU's foreign policy branch, confirmed that Bartolo's letter had been received.

"We will give it due consideration and reply in an appropriate way," said the spokesperson.

The whole points to a wider crusade against migrant disembarkation at sea as EU states shore up barriers to prevent NGO rescue boats from helping.

An EU-level sea operation known as Sophia, which was mandated to tackle trafficking, has since been replaced by a much weaker mission called Irini tasked to enforce the Libyan arms embargo.

Sophia had more ships and carried out rescues but was effectively shut down by Italy's hard-right then deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.

Coronavirus

Refugees across Europe help fight the pandemic

From the Netherlands to Italy, refugees and asylum seekers are stepping forward to help in the fight against the pandemic. Some are trained doctors, others are cleaners, while others help out the homeless on Europe's streets.

Malta patrol boat 'intimidates' capsized migrants

Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress, has released video footing showing an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) boat making dangerous manoeuvres next to people swimming for their lives at sea. Malta does not deny the footage.

EU Commission seeks help as hundreds stuck off Malta coast

Hundreds of people who fled Libya have been stuck off the Maltese coast as the government in Valletta refuses to allow them to disembark. The European Commission is demanding EU states step in to help relocate them.

New Greek rules stigmatise NGOs working with migrants

New rules in Greece single out NGOs that work with refugees and asylum, in what the Athens government say is a bid to create greater transparency. But refugee groups say the rules are discriminatory and follow an anti-NGO pattern.

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.

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