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Open Arms vessel. Twitter

EU Parliament chief urges help for migrants on ‘Open Arms’

The Spanish rescue ship remains at sea, eight days after picking up 121 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

Published: August 12, 2019, 11:16 am

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    The head of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has called on the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to help the migrants after the Open Arms was denied entry by both Italy and Malta.

    “The situation is serious and calls for immediate action,” he told Italy’s largest newspaper La Reppublica. Sassoli warned that if Europe cannot welcome migrants, “it will mean that it has lost its soul, as well as its heart”.

    Davis Sassoli. Wikipedia

    Since June last year, authorities in Malta and Italy have banned migrants rescue ships from docking at their ports unless there is a previous agreement to relocate the illegal arrivals to other countries.

    The EU has been unable to make Italy and Malta change their position, and has no plan to provide rescue vessels with friendly ports. The Spanish rescue ship is currently 29 nautical miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

    The EU Commission sent a thinly veiled warning to Italy, stating that the new law targeting charities operating migrant rescue ships was in breach of EU rules. The Commission will “analyse” the new legislation in order to “verify whether it is compatible with European law,” a spokesperson for the bloc’s executive said.

    In the case of the Open Arms, the European Commission could act as a mediator between member states, but the process cannot be launched unless requested by an EU member state.

    The director of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, Óscar Camps, has formally appealed to Spain, France and Germany to launch such negotiations but so far not one of the countries has responded. The process forces vessels to wait up to three weeks at sea for authorization to dock.

    The illegal immigration issue has clearly become a political hot potato as witnessed by the lack of enthusiasm to heed the calls of the head of the Barcelona-based charity. Acting Deputy Prime Minister of Spain Carmen Calvo, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), even said Spain does not have to intervene. “We don’t have to do it.”

    Óscar Camps arrived on the Italian island at the end of last week accompanied by Hollywood actor Richard Gere. Camps meanwhile praised Sassoli’s letter, calling it “compelling”. He said on Friday that no politician will prevent his organisation from continuing its rescue activity at sea, and has accused governments of starting up “all the administrative machinery” to not save lives.

    “You have to admit he is right. If Europe cannot protect people who search for a better life it will mean Europe has lost its soul and its heart,” he said. Camps spoke to the media at Lampedusa Airport during a press conference with the president of Open Arms Italia, Riccardo Gatti and the American actor.

    Camps has also requested that the media use new terminology to talk about illegal migrants: “In international waters there are no migrants, there are lives in danger.”

    Gere, on the other hand, explained that he decided to visit the vessel and bring provisions for the immigrants and the crew “spontaneously”, without anyone calling him, as a gesture of support.

    “Nobody told me to come. I came spontaneously. I was spending the holidays with my family near Rome and after the anti-immigration law decree was passed, a law that nobody could believe, I decided to visit the Open Arms ship that I encountered a few years ago in Barcelona,” he said.

    Gere also regretted that there was “a certain generalised paranoia, a fear of helping the foreigner”.

    The EU Commission was expected to reply to Sassoli last week, but a spokesperson insisted that the executive branch cannot mediate unless a member state requests its intervention.

    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also condemned Italy saying it was concerned about the heavy fines for migrant transporting NGOs. The UNHCR responded to the Security Decree, which has just been passed into law.

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