European Parliament President David Sassoli has called for emergency assistance to migrants trapped at sea.
In a letter to outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Sassoli said: “As has happened repeatedly since the decision was taken to ignore the European Parliament’s call for the overhaul of the Dublin Regulation, the fate of wretched people rescued at sea is being exploited for political purposes by governments and is the subject of disagreements between them. Every time a vessel reaches European waters, the same scene is repeated and the same rhetoric is spouted. The latest case involves the Open Arms, a boat with 121 people onboard, which has nowhere to go.
“The work the Commission has done in coming to the assistance of the Member States in such cases in recent years has been admirable, and entirely in keeping with the values underpinning the Union and international agreements. This time, however, there is no suggestion that assistance will be forthcoming. According to press reports, the people on board include 31 minors, among them Ethiopian twins only nine months old, and women whose bodies bear the indelible marks of violence and mistreatment.”
The Open Arms vessel, operated by Spanish humanitarian charity Proactiva Open Arms, is currently in open water between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. Both states have refused to allow the boat safe harbour or emergency assistance to migrants onboard, with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini saying: “Open Arms should not forget, Italian territorial waters are closed to them and we are ready to seize the ship.”
Sassoli’s letter emphasised the EU’s ‘commitment to human welfare’ and its corresponding duty to provide an essential degree of emergency assistance to migrants; and concluded: “At a time when self-interest seems to be the norm, we must do our duty to the full. I am convinced that your awareness of what is at stake and Commissioner Avaramopoulos’s commitment to helping refugees will ensure that you are up to the task of dealing with this emergency as well, by coordinating prompt humanitarian intervention and arranging for the fair distribution of the migrants.
“I am aware that any response to this request for humanitarian assistance must be voluntary. The situation is serious and calls for immediate action, not least because, as you know both intellectually and emotionally, the poor cannot wait. As it has done so many times, the European Parliament will support you in your efforts. Let us do it, Mr President, for Hortensia, the woman who, in trying to escape her tormentor, had petrol thrown over her and was set on fire. If Europe cannot protect that woman and her companions who have set out in search of a better life, it will mean that it has lost its soul, as well as its heart.”