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Amnesty calls on Spain to release migrant rescue ships

Amnesty International has called on the Spanish government to take steps to allow two vessels confined to the ports of Barcelona and Pasaia (in the Basque Country) to continue their work of rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea ‘as soon as possible’.

The Open Arms, in Barcelona, and the Aita Mari, in Pasaia, have been prevented from setting sail for two months, and the NGO has reminded the Spanish government that there are only a few weeks until the deadline for resolving the issue keeping the ships in port.

‘The most direct consequence is that right now they could be avoiding many deaths, and the solution is clear: allowing these vessels to leave port, and remembering that saving lives is not a crime,’ said Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International in Spain.

The refugee rescue ship of the Catalan NGO Proactiva Open Arms (by Proactiva Open Arms)

According to the human rights NGO, rescue organisations are ‘more needed than ever’ at a time in which European states have given up ‘almost completely on the task of monitoring the central Mediterranean, and thus reducing the resources devoted to rescue.’

Amnesty believes there is ‘growing hostility’ towards such NGOs and that ‘penalising the Proactiva Open Arms and Maydayterraneo NGOs is unjustified and causes a violation of human rights, both in terms of crews as well as the people in danger in the central Mediterranean.’

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The main argument used by the authorities for preventing the vessels from leaving port is that, after rescuing stranded migrants, the number of people they were carrying over an extended period exceeded that allowed by the rules for ships of their size.

However, Amnesty rejects this, arguing that such problems with certification ‘cannot be the excuse for why these vessels are unable to fulfil their mission, the responsibility for which should lie with European member states.’

The Catalan NGO, Proactiva Open Arms, which owns the Open Arms vessel confined to Barcelona’s port, has rescued hundreds of people stranded at sea since 2017, and has also received recognition for its work, such as the EU’s European Citizen’s Prize in 2016.

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