NGOs account for 40% of Mediterranean rescues
International Migration Organization head demands EU authorities make rescue work ‘easier’ for organizations such as Catalan ProActiva Open Arms
NGOs account for more than 40% of the rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean, International Migration Organization’s (IMO) regional director, Eugenio Ambrosi, told ACN. “The task of NGOs in the Mediterranean is saving human lives and not encouraging human trafficking,” he claimed. Ambrosi made the remarks a week after EU home affairs ministers agreed to develop a code of conduct for organizations working in the Mediterranean. According to Ambrosi, any measure taken by Brussels should make the rescue work of NGOs easier rather than “making it more difficult.” Thus, he demanded action to “improve the coordination between all rescue operations in the sea.”
Some EU politicians, such as Spanish Minister of Home Affairs Juan Ignacio Zoido have blamed NGOs for contributing to the arrival of migrants on European coasts. “The arrival of migrants is not due to NGOs saving lives in the sea, but due to traffickers and other problems forcing people to come to Europe,” Ambrosi claimed. Zoido apologized and last Thursday retracted his words, saying that it is necessary to “raise awareness of NGOs” that do not encourage “irregular immigration”.
One of the organizations that could be affected by the EU code of conduct is the Catalan ProActiva Open Arms, whose aim is to rescue refugees from the sea that arrive in Europe from the war in Syria, but also from other countries. Its main operation area is the Aegean and the Central Mediterranean Sea, and it has won several awards in the past few years, including the Olof Palme Medal 2017, the European Citizen’s Prize 2015 and the HERO Awards International, given by the International Maritime Rescue Federation.
“The arrival of migrants is not due to NGOs saving lives in the sea, but due to traffickers and other problems"
Eugenio Ambrosi · International Migration Organization regional director
Ambrosi stated that little has changed in the Mediterranean in the past three years. “Concerning the route and the number of people migrating, we face the same situation as three years ago, which shows that it is a structural phenomenon not related to eventualities or temporary emergencies,” he said. Nevertheless, he believes that migration flows are at the moment different, with fewer people trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean from Eritrea, but greater numbers among Bangladeshi nationals or Western Sub-Saharan Africans.
The IMO director for the European Economic Area, the EU and NATO also showed concern at the spread of the countries facing this situation. For him, the responsibility mainly falls to “three or four countries”, among them Greece and Italy, which have “no alternative but to continue helping and assisting migrants and refugees reaching European territory.” Ambrosi demanded “shared responsibility and solidarity” among all EU states and regretted that “not all member states have followed the EU guidelines” over measures to tackle the migration crisis.
The International Migrant Organization has counted 2,353 deaths in the Mediterranean so far in 2017 with 101,417 people arriving, most of them in Italy. This is less than half of the 239,492 who reached Europe in the same period last year. The total number of deaths in the Mediterranean in 2016 was around 5,000. Catalonia has contributed to raising awareness with a 160,000-strong demonstration in support of receiving refugees last February in Barcelona, and a charity concert also in the Catalan capital, which was attended by 15,000 people. Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, sent a letter to the EU commissioner for Migration in 2016 announcing that his government was working to accommodate around 4,500 refugees, although the Spanish government is the only one in Spain with powers to grant asylum.