Return of migrant ships: violation of maritime law and moral obligation | Migration

Gaspare, a fisherman from Sciacca in Sicily, rescued dozens of migrants trying to reach Italy by boat from Libya when Italian authorities threatened him and his team with aiding illegal immigration.

“I wonder if any of our politicians have ever heard the desperate cry for help in the high seas in the dark of night,” he said in 2019. “I wonder what they would do. No one – sailors or not – would come back.”

His remarks resonate as United Kingdom Home Secretary Priti Patel intensifies her campaign to send shipwrecks to migrants across the Channel.

Sending a cargo ship with hopeless people back to France violates maritime law and duty based on long-term moral responsibility. There is no legal shortage for states to stay away from helping asylum seekers at sea. Whatever Boris Johnson’s spokesman may say about making this plan “safe and legal”, not allowing aid to migrants who are at risk at sea is not a legal option.

Experts say any return of ships is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and EU law, because denying a person the right to seek asylum is a violation of human rights.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right party and former interior minister, is still paying the price for his policy of closing the country’s seaports to ships carrying migrants in 2018.

Last April, a judge in Sicily ordered Salvini to stand trial for failing to allow a Spanish migrant rescue vessel to dock at an Italian port in 2019, which remained at sea for days. He was charged with kidnapping and dismissal. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Returning small boats carrying asylum seekers is not like asking a truck driver who has blocked a wrong route to turn back and forth. Migrants on ships have done everything dangerous for their voyage. The voyages faced by migrants are full of obstacles, on ships that are not ships and are overloaded; some boats are in poor condition.

Immigrants are often unfamiliar with water; they sometimes make the mistake of jumping into the water with their clothes when they see a ship coming to their aid without calculating the distance between them and their future saviors. Hundreds of migrants have died at sea in rescue operations in recent years.

It is not hard to imagine what the dozens of migrants on a small ship would do in the face of the sight of an English military ship that would send them back to France. You need to look at what the migrants are doing when they see a Libyan coast guard boat trying to rescue them. They throw themselves into the sea and, more often than not, they die.

The return of ships carrying migrants is not only illegal; it is also very, very dangerous.

Gaspare’s son, Carlo, who is also a fisherman, said that if he had returned when he had returned 50 migrants on a boat, in the dark of night, when their gas had run out and they were running out of water, he would have liked it. until the day of his death with their desperate cry for help. Patel plans suggest these are screams she will never hear.