Sicily Canal as the Gateway to Europe: First Medical Aid to Refugees in the Mediterranean  

Project location: Italy, Sicily
Project start date: September 2013 - Project end date: July 2014
Project number: 2013-065
Beneficiary: Fondazione Corpo Italiano di Soccorso dell’Ordine di Malta - CISOM


The commitment of CISOM in Sicily Canal, in cooperation with the Coast Guard and the Guardia di Finanza, started in April 2008. Volunteer staff (medical doctors, nurses and logisticians) is present on the island with teams usually made up of 4 units, for a 24h service.
CISOM is the only national organization having the honor and the task to perform this service on board the SAR (Search&Rescue) vessels according to specific memoranda of understanding signed with the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration (Ministry of the Interior) and with the Civil Protection Department (Presidency of the Council of Ministers).
In the last 4 years (2008-2012) this collaboration demonstrated the will and the ability of the “Italian-System” of civil protection and, at the same time, provided precious surplus value to the institutional work performed by the Coast Guard and the Guardia di Finanza for the protection of human rights and lives.
Despite the increase of the activities in certain periods of the year and the occurrence of tragic events, where the chance to rescue migrants was prevented by bad weather conditions, the work done by CISOM’s volunteers in collaboration with national forces’ staff, shows how Italy is able to manage  a regular cooperation to cope with human tragedies such as these, thus highlighting the efforts of the institutions with the extraordinary dedication of volunteers.
Driven by conditions of extreme vulnerability in their countries of origin, or fleeing from wars and regimes that deny freedom and civil rights, thousands of "migrants" are en route to Europe, trying to get in from its Mediterranean coasts.  They are frequently abandoned at sea or left in boats without a pilot for days, waiting to be rescued. Most of them are asylum seekers for religious or political reasons, such as people coming from Eritrea or Somalia, while others come from South-Saharan countries, like Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, fleeing from famine and poverty.

Those who do not die crossing the African deserts or the Asian steppes,  reach the Italian costs (close to Lampedusa island, Sicily and Calabria) on makeshift boats, in awful physical and psychological conditions. CISOM’s volunteers are trained to face any emergency in SAR operations, evaluating the health conditions of the rescued migrants. The medical staff does not only treat cases of hypothermia, dehydration, hypoglycemic crises, petrol burns and contusions, but it is also ready to help children and pregnant women.
The most serious cases are reported immediately to the local health structure (118 Service), thus activating, if necessary, the emergency transport by helicopter to the closer hospital (located in Siracusa or Palermo) while the rest of the group is made to land and housed in immigration centers, which in some case have a very limited reception capacity compared with the number of arrivals.
CISOM performs this service according to its statutory mandate and objectives, in order to contribute to reduce the loss of human lives in the Mediterranean sea. Unfortunately, in 2013, due to the reduction of the available public funds and to the decision not to renew the state of "national state of emergency" the agreement between CISOM, Ministry of Interior and Civil Protection Department was not renewed.
However, CISOM continues its mission and, starting from summer (period in which migrants’ arrivals use to increase), takes charge of all the costs that use to be covered by the national institutions responsible for the emergency management.
The tragedy occurred on 3rd of October 2013 close to Lampedusa costs is  merely the peak of an endless emergency.
In spite of its effort to defend human rights, the Foundation could be forced to stop its service of first medical assistance in the Canal of Sicily due to its impossibility to bear the costs and the difficulty of employing voluntary staff without the necessary legal support of the Department of Civil Protection (DPR194/01 Article 9).
Considering the charisma and the commitment of Peretti Foundation in defense of human rights, we submit this proposal to ask for support in order to guarantee first medical assistance to refugees in Sicily Canal.

The “Sicily Canal as the gateway to Europe” project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation. It is intended to provide 1 team composed of medical staff and a logistician, 6 months per year ensuring first medical aid to refugees in the SAR operation which take place close to Sicily and Calabria costs, in collaboration with the Coast Guard based in Siracusa.
The team is composed  of:
-    1 Medical doctor or 1 Nurse
-    1 Logistician
The team will be available on a base of a time-schedule definite in coordination between the CISOM groups of East and West Sicily and the operational  headquarters in Rome. It will be reachable through phone communication system, 24 hours a day; the operation Centre of  the Coast Guard in Siracusa will alert the logistician, responsible for material and medical supplies,  informing him on which vessel the team will be embarked. Teams will reach the spot moving from different part of Sicily, mainly East and West, and from South of Italy, such as Calabria and Campania regions. They will drive to Siracusa and once there, they will be hosted in the Guardia Costiera headquarter.

CISOM’s medical staff on board will take part in the SAR operations which usually consist of:
-    sighting the boat to be assisted;
-    approach;
-    transfer of the migrants to SAR vessel;
-    first medical assistance;
-    landing at the dock;
-    handover to the local health facilities

The organization of the activities, such as the provision of medicines and medical supplies, will be managed by CISOM’s secretariat in Rome. Technical coordination and relations with the representatives of local and national Authorities and Naval Forces Sicily will be guaranteed by the project coordinator, CISOM’s National Director.
The possibility to keep on offering first medical aid to migrants is a tangible proof of respect for human rights and it may contribute to draw the attention  of the Italian and European institutions to this urgent problem.

Fondazione Corpo Italiano di Soccorso dell’Ordine di Malta - CISOM
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