Press Release on the Sarost 5 Disembarkation Announcement

Watch the Med Alarm Phone has been in regular contact with crew members as well as rescued people of the Sarost 5 since the first distress call that took place in the Maltese SAR zone on Friday 13.07.18. The 40 rescued people have been at sea for more than two weeks. The rescued people and the crew of the supply vessel Sarost 5 have been stationed off the port of Zarzis since Monday 16.07.18 and have endured unbearable living conditions on board. We are relieved that the Tunisian government will let the people disembark for ‘humanitarian reasons’. However, we remain extremely concerned about the following points:

The ordeal endured by the crew and passengers of the Sarost 5 is the direct result of EU migration policies, which externalize border controls and condone the closure of ports in Italy and Malta to NGO and private rescue vessels. The case of the Sarost 5 adds to other worrying developments in the Central Mediterranean, such as the increased collaboration between Italy and the Libyan Coast Guard and the failure to give authorizations to rescue vessels to disembark people, leaving them stranded at sea for days.
The EU has announced its plans to establish regional disembarkation mechanisms in North Africa. The arrival of the Sarost 5 on Tunisian soil does not constitute a precedent for such disembarkation points. The Sarost 5 sails under Tunisian flag and no North African country has agreed to disembarkation points on their territory. We strongly oppose any steps towards such regional disembarkation points.
The case of the Sarost 5 illustrates the erosion of SAR responsibilities in the central Med. Malta has not abided by its responsibilities to provide a port of safety to the 40 people who were first given supplies at sea by the Caroline III, under Maltese orders and in the Maltese SAR zone. This denial of responsibility not only breaks international maritime law, but also violates the principle of non-refoulment. The People on board the Sarost 5 have declared in video testimonies that they are in need of international protection. Furthermore, the lack of a legal framework to apply for international protection in Tunisia will deprive the people on board the Sarost 5 from their right to an effective remedy. The violation of basic rights of asylum seekers in Tunisia has been documented through the ongoing ordeal faced by the ex-Choucha camp refugees, who are still fighting for legal status and a dignified life in Tunisia. In fact, their struggle continues four years after the closure of the camp. In addition, the rights of LGBTQ people are severely restricted in Tunisia. For the reasons mentioned above, we strongly believe that ports in Tunisia should not be considered as ports of safety.

Watch the Med Alarm Phone denounces the EU states’ failure to take responsibility and their stark negligence of international human rights, as well as the lack of a public statement from the UNHCR in favour of the people on board the Sarost 5. Watch The Med Alarm Phone will monitor the disembarkation closely and remain in contact with the people from the Sarost 5.

In light of the Sarost 5 case, we immediately call for:

  • Full and unconditional respect for human rights and the international Maritime law
  • Immediate disembarkations in ports of safety, which cannot be in Tunisia or Libya, given their non-compliance with international refugee and human rights law
  • The abolition of the Dublin regulation so that the arrival of migrants can be shared among member states of the EU and that the pressure on southern EU states can be alleviated
  • The re-opening of Italian and Maltese ports to NGOs and private vessels transporting people rescued at sea, as they are the closest safe ports to the rescue zone

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