Italy Ordered to Offer Care to Ship-Bound Refugees

(CN) – The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ordered Italy to provide food and medical care to 47 migrants on board a ship anchored off the coast of Sicily, but stopped short of approving the migrants’ request to disembark.

The humanitarian vessel Sea-Watch 3. (

Sea-Watch, a humanitarian group that conducts civil search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, picked up the migrants from a rubber boat in distress off the coast of Libya. More than 100 others are missing and presumed drowned.

The nonprofit refuses to bring the people it rescues back to Libya due to dangerous conditions there, and instead made its way to the Sicilian port of Syracuse where Italian authorities have so far refused to allow the Sea-Watch 3 to dock despite stormy seas.

After lodging an urgent request for relief with the European Court of Human Rights on Jan. 25 – followed by a subsequent request on Jan. 28 filed by the 15 unaccompanied minors on board – the Strasbourg-based court on Tuesday ordered Italian authorities to “take all necessary measures, as soon as possible, to provide all the applicants with medical care, food, water and basic supplies as necessary.”

However, the court stopped short of ordering Italy to let the migrants disembark, despite an offer of help by the Syracuse mayor and his willingness to let the migrants enter the town.

“As far as the 15 unaccompanied minors are concerned, the government is requested to provide adequate legal assistance (e.g., legal guardianship),” the court wrote. “The government is also requested to keep the court regularly informed of the developments of the applicants’ situation.”

The interim measures are in force until further notice, the court said.

The Sea-Watch 3 patrols the coast of Libya looking for boats in distress. According to the group’s website, the vessel rescued some 1,500 migrants over a three-month period last winter.

Tuesday’s order by the EU’s human rights court comes as Italy rolls out tough new anti-immigration measures pushed into law by the far-right political party in the coalition government – measures many mayors of Italy’s biggest cities have protested as inhumane.

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