The NGO Open Arms vessel arriving at Burriana Port in Valencia, Spain, 14 June 2018. EPA/Domenech Castello
The NGO Open Arms vessel arriving at Burriana Port in Valencia, Spain, 14 June 2018. EPA/Domenech Castello

The Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms has sent two ships to rescue migrants in distress off the Libyan coastline despite the fact that Italian ports are closed and the EU has called for "non-interference".

Open Arms has defied the closing of Italian and Maltese ports and has sent two ships toward Libya to rescue migrants in distress. It has in so doing also ignored an EU request to not interfere with operations by the Libyan Coast Guard. 

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini commented by saying that "let's save time. Our ports are not available. Italy has ceased to be the world's refugee camp". 

Ships towards Libya 

The Spanish NGO was denied access for one of its ships carrying 60 migrants by both Italian and Maltese ports early this month, forcing it to remain in the open sea for several days prior to getting permission to dock in Spain. Proactiva Open Arms has in this way made it clear that its humanitarian activities will not stop. Two of its vessels, Open Arms and the Astral yacht following it, are heading towards the Libyan search and rescue area. 

"We are sailing towards a place where there are no clandestine people or delinquents, only human lives in danger. And there are too many dead bodies in the depths" of the Mediterranean already, the organization said. It added, in reference to Italy, that even "if it closes its ports, it can't put gates in the sea". 

"They will see Italy on postcards," Salvini had said in announcing the closing of Italian ports even for supply stops in its crusade against NGOs, which he considers one of the main culprits of migrant landings on Italian coasts. The minister has since repeated that "let's save time, effort and money. They need to know that Italian ports are not available". 

Hardline stance pays off in EU 

The hardline stance taken by the Italian government, fully supported by its Maltese counterpart, has paid off within the EU. In the last EU summit, the principle that all ships operating in the Mediterranean should not interfere with the Libyan Coast Guard was agreed upon. The conclusions of the European Council sparked protest from NGOs. 

Human Rights Watch called it an ugly day for Europe, underscoring that the people intercepted off the Libyan coast end up in indefinite detention and at very high risk of extreme abuse. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) asked the Italian prime minister whether this was really the Europe that we want. 

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