– The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Save the Children – working together as partners since 2006 in the framework of Praesidium Project at the Reception and Rescue Centre of Lampedusa – are expressing their concern over the Italian authorities ‘ decision to declare Lampedusa an unsafe port.
This decision could undermine the entire rescue at sea system for migrants and asylum seekers and at the same time could make rescue operations much more hazardous and complex. Since it is no longer possible to dock in Lampedusa, the ability of the Coast Guard and the “Guardia di Finanza” to carry out rescue at sea will be compromised by the distance they will have to travel to reach the next safe port, e.g Porto Empedocle, 120 nautical miles away. This would have severe implications on rescue operations when the weather is bad, or when it involves transporting people in need of urgent medical assistance, minors and other vulnerable individuals.
Therefore, the partner organizations of the Praesidium Project hope that the Lampedusa centre will be re-established as soon as possible to ensure adequate reception and swift transit for migrants who should be hosted in the centre only for a minimum period of time to allow for assistance and identification before being transferred to appropriate facilities elsewhere in Italy.
Whilst the three partner organizations understand the pressure the island has been under in recent times and the limited capacity of the reception and rescue centre, it is important that Lampedusa remains a safe harbour in order to save lives.
The organizations are also expressing their concern over the recent de facto detention of migrants on ships and question its legal basis and the conditions under which the migrants are kept. UNHCR, IOM and Save the Children hope this practice will not continue and that relevant authorities will find appropriate solutions as soon as possible in line with existing provisions in Italian and international law.