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Italy’s far-right government accused of causing further harm to the traumatised refugees on two rescue ships

Survivors on the Humanity 1 and Geo Barents begin hunger strike in protest against government’s mistreatment

• Mission Lifeline disembarks 95 people in southern Italy

Ocean Viking declares emergency and heads to France

• Inadequate translations postpone Iuventa pretrial again


ITALY’S far-right government is causing further harm to people already traumatised, human rights campaigners said today, as 250 people aboard two civilian-run rescue ships wait for the fourth day for their rights to be respected.

The Humanity 1 and Geo Barents, which saved the lives of 180 and 576 people respectively in the central Mediterranean between October 23 and 29, received permission on Saturday to dock in the Sicilian port of Catania.

Following the authority’s inspection of the survivors, which were carried out without the assistance of interpreters or psychologists, only women, children and those considered sick or injured were allowed to come ashore.

This left 35 people aboard the Humanity 1 and 215 on the Geo Barents. The Italians deemed these people “healthy” and forbid them to disembark from their ships.

Then, on Sunday, the authorities told both vessels to leave port and seek assistance from the German and Norwegian governments, under whose flags they sail. But the captains refused to leave, citing their legal duty to disembark all survivors in a safe port.

Some of the survivors on both ships have begun a hunger strike in protest against their mistreatment.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which runs the Geo Barents, said today that Youssouf, one of the survivors who jumped overboard yesterday, is now refusing food and drink.

MSF quoted Youssouf today, saying: “After days and days on that boat, I was going insane. I had the feeling that my body and my dreams were breaking apart.

“I am grateful for all the assistance I had onboard, but I couldn’t stand that situation anymore.

“I left northern Syria to provide a safe life to my family. I have four daughters who I have left behind, hoping they can join me in Europe, a safe place, soon.

“The youngest one is only six years old. They have witnessed bombs falling on our city in recent years, and now they can’t attend school due to the insecurity that persists in the area.

“Armed groups are everywhere, kidnapping people for ransom. The situation has spiralled out of control, and I fear for their lives every day.

“I simply want to find a place where they can be free of fear and feel safe. That is my dream, and I will not let anyone take it away from me.”

‘Inhumane and unlawful theatre’

Students from Catania protest from the quay of the port, singing the famous Italian anti-fascist song ‘Bella Ciao’

HUMAN Rights Watch (HRW) joined calls by the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration, Amnesty International, and many more today, demanding that Italy allows everyone off the ships.

“The government’s actions cruelly expose survivors of abuse in Libya to potential further harm, and deny them their right to seek asylum in defiance of Italian and international law,” HRW’s Europe and Central Asia researcher Giulia Tranchina said today.

“No one should be deliberately exposed to degrading conditions, and everyone should be allowed to disembark and have their claims for international protection fairly processed.

“Trapping people on ships or stranding them at sea is not serious immigration policy: it’s just inhumane and unlawful theatre,” Ms Tranchina said.

“Rather than violating people’s rights and alienating European partners, Italy should be advocating a predictable system for people to disembark and the resumption of state-led European search-and-rescue operations, alongside an equitable system for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Losing the last bits of hope

People aboard the Ocean Viking as the sun sets [Pic: Camille MARTIN JUAN / SOS Mediterranee]

Meanwhile, another rescue ship, the Ocean Viking — currently carrying 234 survivors, 18 days after its first rescue — declared a humanitarian emergency.

SOS Mediterranee, the organisation that runs the ship in cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the situation onboard the Ocean Viking has reached a critical limit.

“We are facing very severe consequences, including risks of loss of lives,” the charity’s director of operations Xavier Lauth said today.

“After waiting so long for a positive answer to the multiple requests for a place of safety, survivors are losing the last bits of hope and incredible resilience they have shown so far.

“Some survivors have begun expressing intentions to jump overboard out of despair. Serious incidents can happen at any time, jeopardising the safety of the survivors and our teams onboard.”

SOS Mediterranee said the crew has now called on France to provide them with a port to disembark the rescued, and that they expect the Ocean Viking to arrive in international waters close to the French island of Corsica on Thursday.

“This extreme solution is the result of a critical and dramatic failure of all European members and associated states to assist in finding a place of safety,” the organisation said.

“We urge for an immediate solution to be found by the French [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] for the survivors on Ocean Viking.”

An undignified political game

People aboard the Rise Above celebrate after hearing they finally have a port [Pic: @sev_lionne / Mission Lifeline]

Elsewhere in Italy last night, Mission Lifeline‘s ship Rise Above disembarked all of the 89 survivors the crew had left on board following the rescue of 95 people from Malta’s search-and-rescue zone last Thursday (November 3).

Mission Lifeline spokesperson Hermine Poschmann said the organisation is relieved that the rescued people are finally safe on land.

“Unfortunately, the undignified political game over people fleeing led to six people having to be taken off board as medical emergencies before docking in Reggio Calabria,” Poschmann said.

“Seasickness and exhaustion affected many of the 95 people we rescued, after seven days at sea – including five days on the Rise Above.

“On behalf of Mission Lifeline, I wish the guests of the Rise Above all the best for the future.”

Fair trail in jeopardy

The Iuventa rescue ship

Finally, the pretrial hearing against four former members of the Iuventa rescue ship – along with 17 other individuals, Save the Children, MSF, and the shipping company which owned the ships Vos Hestia and the Vos Prudence — was postponed again today.

The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which has been monitoring the pretrial since it began in Trapani in May, said the hearing and voluntary questioning had to be terminated due to inadequate interpretation to the defendants.

The ECCHR said the court’s inadequate translation and interpretation poses significant fair trial concerns for the Iuventa defendants.

It said “the case file has not been translated, and the interpreters provided by the court have been inadequate to ensure the defendants’ rights regarding effective participation.”

Kathrin Schmidt, one of the four Iuventa defendants, told The Civil Fleet today that the way Italy is denying translation is “jeopardising the very fundamental cornerstones of fair trial.”

“How can I defend myself, how can anyone defend themselves, if not given the chance to understand what is being said in the courtroom?”


Top image shows a sign written by the survivors aboard the Humanity 1 [Pic: Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity]

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Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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