On Saturday, after fruitlessly sailing back and forth at the edge of Italian territorial waters off Lampedusa, the vessel Alan Kurdi, belonging to the German NGO Sea Eye, has set off due east toward Malta, taking advantage of a window of good weather, as yet another storm looms on the horizon.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini celebrated this turn of events with a tweet: “NGO ship turns around. Very good, no one is allowed to enter Italy.” The crew and the 64 migrants rescued Wednesday hope to obtain permission to land from Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
The German government is making diplomatic efforts, but as of 2 p.m. Sunday no solution had been found, and the closed ports policy of both Rome and Valletta remained in effect. On Friday, Salvini, after pressure from Berlin, had agreed to allow two women with children (one 11 months old, the other aged 6) and a third woman who is pregnant to land in Lampedusa, but his offer was rejected, because their husbands would have had to remain on the Alan Kurdi.
“We want to stay together … families should be together,” said the father of the 11-month-old girl in a filmed interview.
The Italian government’s decision to deny landing for the two fathers made it clear that a diplomatic solution was not going to be possible in these conditions, certainly not in the short term. Thus, the Alan Kurdi decided to try its luck in Malta, leaving the negotiations up to the EU and Berlin. “Matteo Salvini not only humiliated the rescued. He instrumentalizes everything and everyone to derive the greatest possible political benefits from this situation for himself,” said Gordon Isler, a spokesman for Sea Eye.
The situation on board has become difficult: even though the crew’s cabins have been made available to the rescued, many have already spent four nights out on the deck, on a stormy sea, and water and food are running out.
“We are very worried about the weather. Some of those rescued are sleeping on deck. We will follow the instructions of the Maltese authorities not to sail into Maltese waters without permission. But we cannot sustain this situation for many days and will quickly need drinking water and food,” Isler told The Times of Malta.
Saturday afternoon, a report came from on board: “The food is being rationed for everyone, because we are all in this together. Many people are forced to sleep on the deck. The weather is clearly worsening. We need a safe port immediately.” While conditions on the Alan Kurdi were becoming worse and worse, Salvini was jubilant: “The first historical turnaround of an NGO ship from Italian waters: if we want, we can! Italians first!”
The European elections are just around the corner, and the Lega leader clearly feels the need to work overtime on the propaganda: “They tell me that the Agrigento prosecutor’s office are opening a file on me. They can write whole encyclopedias against me, but I will absolutely not change my attitude. The ports are and remain closed and unwanted traffic is prohibited.”
Meanwhile, in Libya, the conflict, which never really ceased, has broken out once again, making it obvious to everyone that Tripoli being responsible for a search and rescue area is a complete fiction. Salvini, however, is unflappable in his spin: “It is in the interest of all that the Libyan coast guard be in perfect working order. We have issued directives that prohibit the entry of unwanted ships into our territorial waters.”
However, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, painted a very different picture in a tweet on Friday: “The conflict in Libya risks getting worse … The impact on civilians would be disastrous. Work by @UNmigration and UNHCR to help migrants and refugees stranded in Libya would become even more difficult.” This, however, is not stopping Salvini from making his evidence-free claims that Libyan ports are actually safe.
Also on Friday, UNHCR spokeswoman Carlotta Sami posted on Twitter: “Saving lives at sea is a primal imperative. The NGOs have played an essential role, it’s time to remove the obstacles to their work. Six people per day have died at sea in 2018.”