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European Court Asks Italy for Information on Vessel Filled with Rescued Migrants

FILE - The migrant search and rescue ship Sea Watch 3 arrives at the port of Catania, Italy, Jan. 31, 2019.

The European Court of Human Rights has asked Italy to provide information on the case of Sea Watch 3, a ship off the island of Lampedusa carrying rescued migrants who Italy has refused to allow to disembark. Italy's interior minister has said he will hold the Netherlands and the European Union “responsible” for the fate of the 36 migrants on board.

Italy has refused to allow the Sea Watch 3 into its territorial waters and the port of the southern island of Lampedusa. Only a small group of migrants on board the ship, including two pregnant women, were allowed to disembark.

The Dutch-flagged vessel, representing an German organization that rescues migrants at sea, picked up the migrants from an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean 12 days ago. The crew has refused to return them to Libya, saying Tripoli is not a safe port.

Deteriorating situation

The spokeswoman of Sea Watch Italy, Giorgia Linardi said the situation on board the Sea Watch 3 is deteriorating every day and described the Italian authorities' treatment of these migrants as “inhumane and degrading."

“The partial disembarkation of ten people, now almost a week ago, destabilized even further the situation on board. The remaining people are asking why they do not have a right to disembark,” said Linardi.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has now requested the Italian government and Sea Watch provide it with information about the ship, in order to allow the migrants to disembark in Italy.

Linardi said single individuals on board asked the European Court to intervene with so that urgent provisional measures are adopted to guarantee their rights.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been operating a “closed ports” policy in Italy. He said he will hold the Netherlands and the European Union responsible for the fate of the migrants, adding that he has written to his counterpart in the Netherlands.

Salvini said vessels that are illegal will not come to Italy. He said reception is guaranteed for those truly fleeing war, adding that his figures indicate only small percentage of recent arrivals were fleeing conflict.

Migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped significantly since Salvini took office last year, down more than 80 percent in 2018, and because of this the interior minister’s popularity has soared.

The Italian government has imposed a policy that effectively stops NGO ships with rescued migrants from entering Italian waters.

Vessels that fail to respect the ban face fines of up to $56,000.