Four NGOs involved in the rescue of migrants experiencing difficulty at sea have issued a statement calling for Italy to stop blocking their ships.
The NGOs Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Sea-Watch, Open Arms, and Mediterranea have urged the Italian government to stop blocking their rescue ships in the Mediterranean ahead of the National Day in Remembrance of the Victims of Immigration on October 3.
In a joint statement, they called on the Italian government to stop blocking humanitarian ships and to reactivate an EU-wide mechanism to protect life at sea along the central Mediterranean migration route.
Med 'still an enormous cemetery for migrants'
They noted that the Mediterranean continues to be ''one of the largest cemeteries in the world'' and that, seven years after so many died off Lampedusa that October 3 was named in memory of them, even the presence of Italian and European military ships off Libya was not helping to reduce the deaths of migrants at sea.
They stressed that air reconnaissance flights by Frontex and Eunavformed able to monitor every movement on the Libya coast had done nothing to change the situation but had actually facilitated illegal pushbacks by proxy.
They noted that ''embarrassing'' attempts had instead been made, counter to the views of the UN and evidence collected by Amnesty International and many others, to pass off the Libyan Coast Guard as a legitimate authority able to rescue migrants in line with respect for human life and dignity.
They claimed that the Libyan Coast Guard instead, ''as we all know'', captures and forcibly returns all those attempting to flee slavery, torture, violence, exploitation back to Libyan detention centers.
'Italy must abide by international conventions'
For these reasons, they continue, the ''absurd attempt'' by the Italian government to block all civilian rescue ships through dubious and illegitimate means appears ''even more serious''.
The organizations called on the Italian government to abide by its obligations under international conventions to which the country is a signatory and not abandon people at sea, saying that ''technical and bureaucratic excuses were being used to do this.
Calls for a meeting with the government
The NGOs asked for a meeting with the government, while admitting the complexity of the current situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They urged formal government recognition of the value and obligation to conduct rescues of migrants at sea, an end to the blocking of ships and aircraft of EU civil society organisations, immediate assistance and assigning of a safe port within 24 hours for all vessels operating at sea, whatever their classification may be and clear health measures that are the same for all, as well as the reactivation of a European mechanism for the safeguarding of lives at sea along the central Mediterranean route.