Europe Must Stop Putting Politics above Human Lives

Refugees International is dismayed by the Italian government’s refusal to allow the SOS Mediteranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ship, the Aquarius, to disembark in Italy. The ship currently carries 629 refugees and migrants rescued from sea off the Libyan coast.

On June 10, Italy’s new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini declined to allow the Aquarius to dock in Italy, instead calling on Malta to accept the ship. But the government of Malta also refused, and as a result the Aquarius was left with no place to dock.

On June 11, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that his country will allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia. However, MSF predicts it will take at least an additional three days of travel for the ship to reach Spain’s east coast.

While Spain’s announcement demonstrates humanitarian and moral leadership, the Italian government’s actions are a clear reminder of the ways in which political hostility towards refugees and migrants puts lives at risk. 

“Refusing to accept a ship carrying men, women, and children who have fled unspeakable abuses and survived a dangerous sea journey is simply inhumane,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International. “When faced with such an emergency, EU governments must be guided by the imperatives to save human lives and to provide care to those in need—not by politics of nativism and xenophobia.”  

According to MSF, those on board the Aquarius include seven pregnant women, 123 unaccompanied children, and 11 other children, as well as people suffering from serious chemical burns and hypothermia.

Refugees International reminds EU governments that while a fair mechanism for sharing the responsibility for Europe’s recent refugee arrivals is urgently needed, the reality is that only a small fraction of the world’s migrants and refugees ever reaches Europe. EU governments have the means to manage these arrivals in an organized, humane way that complies with their obligations under international law.