If Matteo Salvini had his way, he’d send the police aboard the SeaWatch 3. “We’re working on it,” said the Interior Minister on Saturday. “We’re evaluating in the next few hours whether we can get on board to acquire all the relevant information to investigate those people who are de facto accomplices of the traffickers for the crime of favoring illegal immigration.” Salvini reiterated his extreme hardline approach towards the NGO, even while the prosecutor’s office in Syracuse, near which the ship is currently at anchor, denied that there were any elements present that would justify a police intervention.
It looks like there will be no safe haven for the SeaWatch ship, and no landing for the 13 unaccompanied minors on board (an 8-year-old, six 14-year-olds and four 17-year-olds), despite the order that arrived two days ago from the juvenile court authorities in Catania. “They can investigate me and threaten me, but I will not change my mind. You can only enter Italy by following the laws and rules,” Salvini repeated Saturday, also saying that he has asked the Netherlands to withdraw the NGO ship’s flag.
On board the SeaWatch 3, the situation, already difficult, is likely to worsen further. To protect the migrants from the cold, the crew brought them all into the one place that would not expose them to the elements and the cold weather of recent days—but this is only one room, a rather small one, where they have been living in cramped conditions for days now. It is their psychological conditions, however, which causes the most concern: “The migrants are exhausted and debilitated,” the volunteers of the NGO explained. “They tell about the long months spent in Libyan jails and report serious trauma due to abuse and torture.”
“In Libya, the militias forced me to work continuously for 12 hours a day,” one 16-year-old from Guinea told the crew.“They threatened me, poking me with their guns at work. At the end of the day, they often didn’t give me food. They killed one of my friends because one morning he couldn’t get up to go to work.”
“We demand the immediate landing of all the survivors,” said Giorgia Linardi, the spokeswoman for Sea Watch Italy. She added that the landing of just some of them would be traumatic for the others, among whom there is a Gambian 24-year-old young man with deep scars on his hands and body from the tortures he suffered in Libya. He was tied up and repeatedly stabbed, and almost torn limb from limb as they were filming him with his hands tied to the ceiling.
On Saturday, some Italian lawmakers made an unsuccessful attempt to get on board the ship. Riccardo Magi (from +Europa), Nicola Fratoianni (LeU) and Stefania Prestigiacomo (Forza Italia) waited for hours for the authorities to grant them permission to climb aboard to check the condition of the migrants and crew. In the end, they were only allowed to circle around the ship, not board it.
“Members of the Italian Parliament were de facto prevented from exercising their powers on the national territory. This is very serious, and goes far beyond the issues related to the management of immigration,” Magi said Saturday evening. “We are seeing responsibility being passed back and forth between the maritime authorities and the prefecture. We will insist on the constitutional prerogatives of those who represent Italian citizens to be guaranteed, and on the protection of the fundamental rights of the people aboard the ship.”
On Sunday morning, Magi, Fratoianni and Prestigiacomo, together with the mayor of Syracuse and a team of doctors and lawyers, defied the authorities’ ban and finally climbed aboard the Sea Watch 3 to inspect the conditions and offer assistance to the 47 migrants and crew.
Among those asking that the migrants be allowed to land immediately were the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNICEF.
“It is urgent that the migrants and refugees on SeaWatch3 be immediately guaranteed a landing at the nearest port,” wrote the three organizations in a joint statement. “At the same time, until such a time as Libya can be considered a safe haven, it is necessary that all European states must finally show a sense of responsibility and solidarity with the migrants and refugees who are likely to die at sea, and therefore that the current ‘ship by ship’ approach should be deprecated and replaced by a safe and orderly landing mechanism for the central Mediterranean.”