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Enough! Stop persecuting the Aquarius!

A joint statement Left MEPs Marie-Christine Vergiat and Barbara Spinelli

Today, we learned of the shocking decision by the Italian authorities order to seize the Aquarius. Their reason? Suspicions over the illegal treatment of ‘hazardous waste’.

According to the investigators, the ‘hazardous waste’ in question includes migrant clothing, food scraps and sanitary waste.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) denounced the measure as disproportionate and unfounded and has said it will appeal against the decision.

The NGO also said that waste management from the Aquarius has always followed standard procedures – something that was never questioned by the authorities.

Today’s development is the latest in a long-running legal saga. Having been accused of failing to comply with international legal procedures concerning sea rescue, Gibraltar deprived Aquarius of its flag during the very same moment when Italy also refused to grant the Aquarius access to its ports for disembarkation.

In September, Panama withdrew its flag under pressure from Italy. Since then, the Aquarius has been stranded in Marseille even though it had been granted a Liberian flag, but remained anchored in the French port on a technicality which disallowed it from going back to the sea.

Since 2015, MSF has rescued and assisted more than 80 000 people in all its operations. In the Mediterranean, 25 per cent of search-and-rescue operations are conducted by NGOs – almost the same amount as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

As the criminalisation of humanitarian aid intensifies across Europe, many of these NGOs can no longer go out to the sea and the number still operating can be counted on one hand.

But their presence is vital. Since the beginning of the year, more than 2000 people have drowned. Although the number of crossings has decreased drastically, the death toll is steadily increasing again. For every 10 people trying to cross in September 2018, for example, two would die and only one would arrive in Europe, with the remaining 7 returning to Libya with horrific consequences awaiting them.

The only crime committed in the Mediterranean is thus: the deaths and the suffering of thousands of people.