Sea Rescue: "Municipalities in Germany can be the safe haven"
Lifeboats wait for weeks without help in the Mediterranean. An EU solution is missing. But you could start in German cities, says Tareq Alaows from the NGO Seebrücke.
Five months ago, Bündnis Seebrücke wrote an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), which contained three demands for the civilian rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean: a European rescue plan for rescue teams, cities and municipalities that allow voluntary, additional reception of refugees and no repatriations of migrants to Libya. Since then, however, the situation for sea rescue services has worsened: ships with rescued people, such as the "Sea-Watch 3" of Captain Carola Rackete, had to stay on the Mediterranean for several weeks because then Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked the ports by decree and the Let rescuers prosecute. That would not have to be if some cities could take them in, says Tareq Alaows of the coordinating body of the aid organization Seebrücke.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Alaows, how is your record of progress in the rescue of the Mediterranean Sea?
Tareq Alaows: The biggest progress happened last Tuesday. Andreas Geisel, the Berlin Interior Senator, has announced that Berlin intends to introduce a legislative amendment in the Bundesrat in order to facilitate voluntary reception programs for cities and local authorities. In Germany, we have more than 90 municipalities that have agreed to accept refugees in addition to their compulsory quotas. So far, the Interior Ministry had to grant this and that has blocked it so far. In the future, the countries should be able to approve a recording themselves.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why do these cities and municipalities want to accept more refugees than the number to which they are obliged?
Alaows: The situation in the Mediterranean shocks many local politicians - it is unacceptable that people are drowning. This is not human and moral. Cities are of the opinion that they have the capacity to absorb people beyond their quotas. The number of arriving people in Germany is currently decreasing. Municipalities in Germany can be a safe haven for those rescued by civilian life-saving organizations and then stuck on the Libyan coast for several days and weeks without a safe haven.
ZEIT ONLINE: How to prevent such situations, several EU states want to discuss at a meeting in Malta on 23 September. The Chancellor has recently publicly speculated on a new mission to the state rescue. Is that a solution?
Alaows: We also demand that the state take over the sea rescue missions . But there is little reason to hope that something will happen at this meeting in Malta. The EU has given hundreds of millions of euros to the border agency Frontex and Frontex is buying drones. The EU and Frontex want to shirk that by saying: "We do not have ships, but we have drones and work with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. So far, there has been no signal from the policy to decriminalize the rescue. That would be a practical solution to the situation in the Mediterranean.
ZEIT ONLINE: What does that mean exactly?
Alaows: This means that the ships will no longer be blocked off the ports, the ships will no longer be seized and the captains will no longer be brought to justice simply because they have saved human lives.
ZEIT ONLINE: Recently the rescue ship Alan Kurdi was not allowed to dock for ten days with refugees on board. The boat Ocean Viking is looking for a harbor for two days. Libya has offered the Ocean Viking to take back the 84 people on board, the crew has refused. Why should not that be an option?
Alaows: According to international maritime law, the captain is required to bring rescued to a safe haven. Libya is by no means a safe haven. People are being held there in torture camps controlled by militias. I am surprised that the EU is cooperating with such militias and sells them here as a support for local maritime rescue.
ZEIT ONLINE: With their three core demands so little has been done.
Alaows: That's political will. Germany plays a major role at EU level, but shifts responsibility to Italy. Germany also says it calls for a long-term solution for legal escape routes. There is a new EU resettlement program. However, we believe that it is not enough, because it is limited to people with special needs and you do not know how many people are to be welcomed. The right to asylum is a human right, one can not limit this right with capacities and numbers. We want to make it clear that all discussions about an EU distribution mechanism should only be conducted after municipal reception programs have been made possible. Everything else is not realistic. We can not say that we are waiting for the approval of EU partners while people are drowning.