‘Triton’ migrant rescue operation inadequate, says Italian minister

Ending of Italian navy-run Mare Nostrum condemned as a step backwards, as its replacement, coordinated by EU Frontex border agency, has limited range

An officer looks at a monitor showing  the area where a boat believed to be crowded with  as many as 700 migrants capsized in the waters north of Libya on Sunday. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/AP

An officer looks at a monitor showing the area where a boat believed to be crowded with as many as 700 migrants capsized in the waters north of Libya on Sunday. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/AP

 

From the moment that the Matteo Renzi-led government announced last November that the Italian navy-run “Mare Nostrum” search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean was to be discontinued, there was always the fear that further and even bigger disasters were practically guaranteed.

Mare Nostrum, which cost Italy approximately €9 million per month, was replaced by “Triton”, co-ordinated by the EU Frontex border agency.

Immediately, experts such as former Italian minister for integration, Congolese-born Cecile Kyenge, called the ending of Mare Nostrum a “step backwards”.

Limited

Libya

Mare Nostrum had been initiated by the Enrico Letta government in the immediate aftermath of the Lampedusa boat people tragedy of October 2013. The point about the small island of Lampedusa is that it is actually closer to the mainland of Tunisia (113km) than to Italy (176km).

Indeed, many of the boat people sinkings of the last two years have occurred just off the north African coast, making it all the more essential that the range of any search-and-rescue operation stretch practically all the way to north Africa. In that context, Ms Kyenge argued that Mare Nostrum had “saved the lives of over 100,000 people”.

Northern League

Organisations such as Médecins San Frontières and Amnesty International Italy strongly disagreed, with Amnesty pointing out last week that even though Mare Nostrum had been disbanded, “the numbers of desperate people seeking to make it to Europe are only going up”.

Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, said yesterday a “European [EU] Mare Nostrum” was needed, adding: “What happened today is proof that we need a European intervention here, capable of putting adequate rescue resources to work”.

At the moment, the Triton operation comprises just three larger ships, two motor boats, two planes and one helicopter.

In a crisis like yesterday’s sinking, the rescue operations often rely on merchant ships, in the hope that they abide by the laws of the sea and rescue those in trouble.

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