Gaspare, a fisherman from Sciacca in Sicily, had rescued dozens of migrants trying to reach Italy by boat from Libya when Italian authorities threatened to arrest him and his crew for aiding illegal immigration .
“I wonder if even one of our politicians ever heard the desperate pleas for help on the high seas in the dark of night,” he said in 2019. “I wonder what they would have done No human being – sailor or not – would have turned away.
His words resonate again as UK Home Secretary Priti Patel steps up her campaign to turn boats carrying migrants back across the English Channel.
Sending back to France a rickety ship overloaded with desperate people constitutes a violation of maritime law and of a duty based on a long-standing moral obligation. There are no legal shortcuts for states to avoid helping asylum seekers at sea. No matter what Boris Johnson’s spokesperson says about making this plan ‘safe and legal’, don’t helping migrants who are in danger at sea is not a legal option.
Experts say any forced return of boats is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and EU legislation, because denying an individual the right to seek asylum is a violation of human rights.
Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right League party and former interior minister, is still paying the price for his policy of closing the country’s seaports to ships carrying migrants in 2018.
Last April, a judge in Sicily ordered Salvini to stand trial for refusing to let a Spanish migrant rescue ship dock at an Italian port in 2019, which kept those on board at sea for days. He was charged with kidnapping and dereliction of duty. If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Turning away small boats carrying asylum seekers is not like asking a truck driver who took the wrong road to back up and go back. The rafted migrants risked everything for their journey. The journeys faced by migrants are fraught with pitfalls, on board unseaworthy and overcrowded vessels; some boats are in a terrible state.
Often, migrants do not know how to swim; they sometimes make the mistake of jumping into the water fully clothed when they see a ship coming to their aid without calculating the distance that separates them from their potential rescuers. Hundreds of migrants have died at sea in recent years during rescue operations.
It is not difficult to imagine what dozens of migrants would do on board a small boat at the sight of an English military ship which wanted to send them back to France. You just have to see what the migrants do when they see a Libyan coastguard ship that wants to chase them away. They throw themselves into the sea and very often they die.
Turning back boats carrying migrants is not just illegal; it is also very, very dangerous.
Gaspare’s son Carlo, who is also a fisherman, said if he turned away when he saw 50 migrants aboard a canoe, in the dark of night, which had run out of fuel and took on water, it would have been haunted. until his dying day by their desperate pleas for help. Patel’s plans suggest these are screams she has never heard.