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German Churches plan to buy sea rescue ship

20 September 2019

Migrants could be rescued in private vessels, Evangelical Church in Germany says


Tunisian migrants on the rescue ship Alan Kurdi in international waters off Malta, on 8 September

Tunisian migrants on the rescue ship Alan Kurdi in international waters off Malta, on 8 September

PROTESTANT Churches in Germany will assist aid organisations by sending their own sea rescue ship to the Mediterranean.

“As long as people who are seeking protection drown in the Mediterranean, and government action fails, we will do our utmost to support civilian sea rescue,” the bishop who chairs the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria, told journalists last week.

The umbrella body of 27 German Protestant churches was joined by representatives from civil society, sea rescue, and aid organisations, as well as municipalities who were willing to take in more than their quota of refugees, in pressing for a solution for people in distress at sea.

They called on the German government and all political leaders in Europe to set up immediately a Europe-wide distribution mechanism for refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, and to bring arbitrarily detained refugees in Libya to safety. They said that maritime rescue in the Mediterranean had a “terrible balance sheet. There is still no solution in sight, and the political failure continues.”

Dr Bedford-Strohm said: “We want to send a ship. At its latest meeting, the Council of the EKD decided to found an association in which churches, institutions, and committed people together want to, as quickly as possible, send another ship on a rescue mission.”

It remained unclear which Churches and organisations would be founding partners, and how the costs will be borne.

Italy has repeatedly refused to allow rescue ships into ports. The German daily newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported this week that Italian media said that the “temporary predictive reallocation programme” previously blocked by the former Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, would be agreed at a meeting next week of several EU interior ministers in Valletta, Malta.

This is expected to allow private rescue vessels with refugees on board to enter without delay the nearest Maltese or Italian port; and to prevent deadlocks such as the recent cases involving Sea-Watch 3 (News, 5 July) and the Alan Kurdi, in which ships operated by German aid organisations or sailing under a German flag were, for days and weeks, not allowed to enter Italian territorial waters or ports, while the situation on board deteriorated.

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