Joint NGO Statement on the Aquarius incident
We commend Spain for accepting the disembarkation of the over 600 rescued migrants aboard the MV Aquarius. Without this intervention, the impasse between Italy and Malta over where to disembark the rescued migrants could have easily led to a humanitarian disaster. Spain’s intervention is an act of true solidarity, not only amongst EU Member States but also – and more importantly – with migrants and refugees trying to secure a safer life.
The protection of life and human dignity should remain the topmost priority under all circumstances. Whilst we appreciate the need to clarify specific legal responsibilities, the spirit of the law is to ensure the safety of all rescued persons, and also the integrity of the rescuing vessels and its crew. We also stress that disembarkation in unsafe places, such as Libya, would violate international human rights law and international law, and should therefore not be considered as an option.
In order to preserve the maritime rule whereby all persons in distress are to be rescued, it is imperative for coastal states to coordinate their activities towards ensuring a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety. This is a clear obligation under international law, rendered more pressing when the rescued persons include children, pregnant women and other persons in need of care and attention.
Finally, while we are aware of the challenges posed by the arrival of large groups of migrants and refugees, we urge Malta to do all that is necessary to ensure that it meets its legal and humanitarian obligations of offering a dignified reception to persons disembarked here. Once more we reiterate our commitment and our willingness to work with the authorities in order to achieve this objective.