Italy sends Mediterranean migrant rescuers on 1,000km roundabout route to slow arrivals

Rescue charities say they cannot save lives because of the delay

Crosses in Crotone, Italy, pay homage to the victims of the Steccato di Cutro shipwreck in March where at least 72 migrants died. EPA
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Two migrant rescue charities say Italy's policy of forcing them to use a longer route to reach people in distress is lethal.

The announcement comes after more than 60 people drowned off the coast of Libya on December 14 when rescuers were unable to reach them in time.

Alarmphone and Sea-Watch International both criticised Italy for assigning them the use of the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, which they say is 1,150km from the area where many migrant disasters are occurring.

"Italy has assigned us Marina di Carrara as a port of safety," Sea-Watch International said.

"It’s 1,150km away. The aim of these distant ports is to keep rescue ships away from the area of operation so we can’t rescue any more people in distress."

This week the charity made the voyage to rescue 119 migrants from Libya, including a three-year-old boy, in two separate missions.

"We were able to rescue 119 people in two rescue operations," it wrote on social media platform X.

"Our aircraft, Seabird, was also supporting from the air and is operational again today, searching for boats in distress."

Rescue charity Alarmphone has also hit out at Italy's policy.

"The Italian policy of forcing rescuers to disembark in faraway harbours, while knowing that people continue to escape from Libya, has knowingly widened the rescue gap at sea and proven, once more, lethal," it said in a statement.

"We are devastated that once again the European and Libyan authorities have failed to rescue people in distress, and that once again the EU border regime has killed. We denounce the continuous border violence, the continuous dying at Europe’s maritime and other borders."

More than 153,000 migrants arrived in Italy this year from Tunisia and Libya, according to the UN refugee agency.

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni won elections last year after vowing to stop illegal migration.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says it is witnessing "appalling levels of human suffering" and has called on the EU to change its policies.

"MSF has been running search-and-rescue activities since 2015 as a direct response to European Union policies of disengagement and non-assistance along this stretch of the sea," it said.

"Working on eight different search-and-rescue vessels, independently or in partnership with other non-governmental organisations, our teams have provided lifesaving assistance to more than 90,000 people.

"While MSF continues to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Central Mediterranean by providing assistance including emergency medical care, we call upon the EU and its member states to immediately change course and to prioritise the safety of those seeking sanctuary at European shores."

Updated: December 28, 2023, 5:26 AM