German NGO sues Italy at EU rights court over stranded migrants

BERLIN (AFP) – German aid group Sea Watch said on Tuesday it has filed a case at the European Human Rights Court against Italy for refusing to allow its ship carrying 47 rescued migrants to dock.

The German NGO’s spokesman Ruben Neugebauer said the group had taken the drastic step on Friday because of Rome’s hardline attitude against the mainly sub-Saharan migrants that its ship Sea Watch 3 pulled out of the Mediterranean on January 19.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is “taking the people on board as political hostages”, said Neugebauer.

“They are trying to push it to the Netherlands,” he added, referring to Salvini’s insistence that the Netherlands or Germany take responsibility for the migrants.

Sea Watch 3 is sailing under the Dutch flag and currently sheltering from bad weather off Sicily. It picked up the migrants and asylum-seekers – including eight minors – off the coast of Libya as they made the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.

Neugebauer stressed that laws governing international waters are clear that ships in distress “must be brought to the nearest safe harbour”.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday urged the Italian government to “take all necessary measures, as quickly as possible”, to provide migrants on board the Sea-Watch 3 with medical care, water and food.

Migrants rescued by ships have frequently been left in limbo since Italy’s anti-immigration government began turning them away last summer.

Protesters gather during a demonstration in support of German humanitarian group Sea-Watch, in front of the Italian lower chamber’s Montecitorio palace, in Rome. – AP