It is not clear whether the charity has been authorised to do so, or whether it has opted to defy jurisdiction and take the risk of operating without permission, given its founder Óscar Camps’ recent tweet which says: “We’d rather be prisoners than accomplices.”
He posted the now-viral and highly-distressing photograph of a father and his young daughter who drowned in each other’s arms in the river Bravo on the USA-México border with the caption: “This picture has upset me even more than the one of Aylan.”
He was referring to an horrific image of a very small Syrian boy drowned in the sea when he and hundreds of others were attempting to get from Turkey to Greece, in an accident which wiped out his whole family except his father who, grief-stricken, opted to return to war-torn Syria alone instead of continuing the journey.
“Six months blocked. We can’t take it any more. We’re pulling up anchors and we’re off,” Óscar Camps said in his tweet.
The Open Arms – pictured above with its captain, Riccardo Gatti – has been stuck in the port of Naples unable to move after the far-right-leaning Italian deputy president and interior minister Matteo Salvini shut the country’s borders to potential refugees.
Two members of Proactiva Open Arms – mission leader Anabel Montes and captain Marc Reig, both Spanish – remain under investigation by Italian authorities in the southern region of Ragusa for ‘assisting illegal immigration’ due to their having helped rescue migrants in trouble off the coast of Libya.
And it was only last month that the judge in Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, closed his file on another case where Proactiva Open Arms was accused by the national authorities of being a ‘criminal organisation’ involved in ‘trafficking illegal immigrants’.
An Italian decree means heavy fines for captains and crew of migrant rescue boats in the area, and the most recent to fall foul of it was the German charity Sea Watch whose boat entered the coastal waters of the island of Lampedusa, without authorisation, carrying 42 migrants it had saved from drowning.
The Open Arms was denied permission by Barcelona port authorities in January to set sail for the Mediterranean migrant crossing zone, which Camps called ‘irresponsible and cruel’, saying they were ‘preventing them from saving lives’, denouncing ‘cowardly policies’ which were ‘putting the body count in operation’.
“Motive: If States fail to comply with their sea rescue obligations, we’re not allowed to save lives either. Get rid of witnesses to hide the deaths, without compunction,” Camps tweeted back then.
The reasons for Barcelona port authority’s keeping the Open Arms anchored in the harbour were not reported, although the craft was permitted to sail to the Aegean Sea in April to transport humanitarian aid provided it did not attempt to save migrants from drowning.
Since then, the craft has been in the port of Naples and, as it has been unable to sail, has been letting in visitors daily so they can see what it looks like inside and learn about the charity’s work.
It will be the only craft now working in the central Mediterranean, one of the most heavily-frequented migrant routes between the Middle East or the African continent and Europe, covering the Libya-Italy stretch.
Some of the other routes with the greatest migrant traffic in Europe are in Spain – along the south coast or the border fences in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco – and anyone in danger of drowning is rescued by the Coastguard from Spain or Morocco depending upon which country’s waters they are in.
Given the high number of migrants fleeing war, persecution, serious political conflict, poverty, or just trying to make a better life for themselves, Spain is currently suffering a massive backlog in asylum applications with up to 100,000 pending, according to latest reports.