The Mediterranean migration route is back in the spotlight. In recent years, media focus has been shifting to other issues as the number of crossings fell to its lowest in five years. However, the decision by Italy to close its ports to migrant rescue vessels (not to mention the recent high-profile arrest of a boat captain by Italian police) has brought attention back.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Sofia arguing that it’s immoral for the Italian government to close its ports to migrant rescue vessels. Is she right?
To get a response, we put her comment to Maria Serrano, Senior Campaigner on Migration for Amnesty International. How would she respond?
Well, obviously there is a longstanding obligation to rescue people in distress at sea. It’s not only a moral obligation, it’s also a legal obligation. So, the captains of boats are legally obliged to render assistance, and this has been a customary obligation for a long time. So, when Italy closes its ports to boats that render this kind of assistance in distress, Italy is undermining the law of the sea and the longstanding duties.
In addition to this, we need to remember that these are people that are victims of torture, there are women, children, men that have been trapped in Libya in detention centres, victims of shipwrecks; so these are very vulnerable people that are left aboard boats without any port for disembarkation, without any place of safety. It is not only immoral, but it is also very cruel and inhuman.
For another perspective, we put the same comment to Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian-Israeli journalist, former Italian lawmaker, and currently a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. What would she say?
[…] One should understand that here, when we speak about ‘immigration’, we are speaking about the defining phenomenon of our time. Until today, the response has been insufficient and very poor, and there have been many attempts to change a system that is demonstrably unfair, not only for the populations of the places where the immigrants are heading too, but also for the immigrants themselves, who very often, when they have been admitted, don’t find themselves in the world that they were dreaming of, or in a situation of understanding or care. In fact, they find themselves in camps, in a very bad environment, or in a situation where they live in worse conditions than they had before.
The response from the people that want them in are just as insufficient as the people who don’t want them in. Because Europe is unable to deny their entrance and unable to treat them in a fair way.
So, for instance, Angela Merkel’s answer in 2015 when she opened all the doors was not a fair answer. It didn’t work at all. It changed the situation for the worse. What I’m saying here is that when you close the ports, on the one hand you should take responsibility for people that are sick – you cannot let people die at sea, you cannot let little children or sick people die on a vessel. This is undisputed from my point of view, and from the moral point of view.
On the other hand, you cannot keep taking responsibility as Europe has until today, in a way that is totally confused and doesn’t admit only the people that are allowed to come, but admits also people that just try to take the fastest route far away from the countries they don’t want to live in anymore…
Is it wrong for Italy to block migrant vessels from its ports? Or is it a necessary step because Italy, despite being on the frontline of the migrant crisis, has not received sufficient solidarity from its European partners? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!