Sea Watch sues Italy in European rights court

The Sea Watch 3 ship has been unable to reach a European port for weeks due to governments refusing to take in the migrants it is carrying. The situation on board has become critical, warned the German NGO.

Sea Watch, a German non-governmental organization, lodged an urgent complaint against Italy with the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) on Monday after a ship it runs, the Sea Watch 3, was barred from docking several EU countries.

Sea Watch 3, which rescued 47 migrants north of the Libyan port of Zuwarah, has been unable to make land for over a week.

The Berlin-based NGO has launched interim measures "in the name of the crew and one rescued individual," said spokesman Ruben Neugebauer.

"We can no longer accept that the European states are jointly breaking the law of the sea and we cannot accept that sea rescue is made conditional on EU negotiations," Neugebauer said in a statement sent to German news agency DPA.

Read more: Germany pulls out of Mediterranean migrant mission Sophia

Stuck on the water

Sea Watch 3, a vessel which carries a Dutch flag, entered Italian waters on Friday but has been unable to dock. Italy has blocked several rescue vessels, in part due to EU countries failing to agree on a migrant redistribution solution.

EU rules require the country in which migrants land to take responsibility for dealing with asylum claims. But Italy argues that the Netherlands should be legally responsible for the vessel because it is "flying the flag of that country."

Read more: Europe's migrant rescue boats face uncertain future

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Focus on Europe | 03.11.2018

Organized exploitation of migrants in Italy

Netherlands: Not on our watch

On Monday, the Netherlands rejected a request by Italy to take the 47 migrants, with the Dutch Justice and Security Ministry saying it would "not take part in ad hoc measures for disembarkation."

The Dutch government also said it was not responsible for the boat, claiming the vessel acted "on its own initiative ... It was up to the captain of Sea Watch 3 to find a nearby port to disembark the 47 migrants he had on board."

Related Subjects

More than 100,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea last year, according to the United Nations refugee agency, with more than 2,000 losing their lives or going missing. The EU has yet to come up with a sustainable migrant solution since the migration crisis of 2015, with many countries throughout the bloc refusing to accept refugees.

Read more: Europe's apathy toward humanitarian rescue outrages NGOs

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How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

dv/ls (AFP, dpa)