Email from Aquarius to Tunisian Navy, copying French MRCC
I acknowledge receipt of your email of 13:34, 12:31 and 11:35. My current position is 37 46.8N 010 43.3E and I keep standing-by in this position. The vessel P610 is close to my position and I am in VHF contact with it. Please be advised that all 5 survivors have stated a real fear of being returned to Tunisia and have declared their intention to seek asylum. We are concerned that returning these people to Tunisia could be in breach of international refugee law. We are currently seeking guidance with UNHCR regarding this matter who have already informed us they are willing to support the situation and are we awaiting their further instructions.
For your information, the government in charge of the designation of a place of safety where the survivors will disembark from the assisting ship (M/V Aquarius) should take in consideration “The need to avoid disembarkation in territories where the lives and freedoms of those alleging a well-founded fear of persecution would be threatened is a consideration in the case of asylum-seekers and refugees recovered at sea.” (IMO Resolution MSC.167(78) Art. 6.17).
We will need some time to be able to clarify these point and to be able to explain to the 5 people on board the situation. Aquarius is configured for Search and Rescue and we are not in any way capable or willing to forcefully put someone on another vessel against their will. Please allow us the time to come to an understanding with all parties before proceeding.
In this regards, I kindly ask you to keep the vessel P610 in standby, the time needed for this clarification.
As per your request, we’ll keep this RCC informed. Thank you for your cooperation.
1951 Refugee Convention
Article 33: Prohibition of expulsion or return (“refoulement”)
“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” [Click here for legal reference]