On 15 February, the United Nations (UN) said dozens of refugees are believed to have died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya. So far, there are only seven survivors of the wreck that was seemingly trying to reach Italy. The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said:
At least 73 migrants are reported missing and presumed dead following a tragic shipwreck off the Libyan coast yesterday.
The boat carrying 80 people had departed Qasr Al-Akhyar, some 75km (46 miles) east of the capital, Tripoli, and was heading to Europe. So far, the Libyan Red Crescent and local police have retrieved 11 bodies. The UN migration agency said that:
seven survivors who made it back to Libyan shores in extremely dire conditions are currently in the hospital.
‘The deadliest border in the world’
The central Mediterranean remains the world’s deadliest migratory sea crossing. Sea-Watch, which conducts rescue missions in the central Mediterranean, said:
The Mediterranean Sea is the deadliest border in the world. More than 25,000 people have died crossing it since 2014. To find protection in Europe and claim their right to a fair asylum procedure people are forced to cross in unseaworthy boats.
Instead of organizing sea rescue and ensuring that lives are saved, the European Union continues to shield itself and lets people drown in the Mediterranean in a calculated manner.
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Indeed, rather than rescuing people escaping from Libya, European countries dehumanise them. They do all they can to prevent civil society organisations such as Sea-Watch from rescuing them. The EU would rather see people drown than allow people to reach Italy. Deadly pushbacks are used where authorities force refugees back into non-European waters, rather than rescue them. These are far too common, even though they’re illegal under international law. Groups like Channel Rescue say that EU pushback policies have caused thousands of deaths.
The IOM said that since the beginning of this year there have been 130 deaths while attempting this crossing between Libya and Italy. The agency’s Missing Migrants Project recorded more than 1,450 migrant deaths on that route in 2022.
Italy is deliberately leaving refugees to drown
The news of these latest deaths comes after Italy introduced a new decree. It is one that will leave more refugees to drown at sea – yet the Italian parliament voted it into law on 15 February. Among the new rules, the Italian government requires all civil rescue ships to bring those rescued straight to an Italian port. But Sea-Watch has stated that:
This delays further lifesaving operations, as ships usually carry out multiple rescues over the course of several days. Instructing SAR [search and rescue] NGOs to proceed immediately to a port, while other people are in distress at sea, contradicts the captain’s obligation to render immediate assistance to people in distress, as enshrined in the UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea].
Furthermore, the Italian authorities are frequently assigning distant ports to the ships, which can take up to four days to reach. Sea-Watch said:
Both factors are designed to keep SAR vessels out of the rescue area for prolonged periods and reduce their ability to assist people in distress. NGOs are already overstretched due to the absence of a state-run SAR operation, and the decreased presence of rescue ships will inevitably result in more people tragically drowning at sea.
The law comes despite the fact that on 6 February 2023, a court in Sicily found that the issuance of another decree was unlawful. This one “imposed a ban on the rescue ship Humanity 1 on November 4, 2022, from stopping in territorial waters”. SOS Humanity said:
As a result, only a selection of the 179 survivors whom the search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity had rescued from distress at sea were allowed to disembark in the port of Catania… the judge highlighted Italy’s duty to assist people in distress at sea.
But, Italy’s immorality doesn’t stop there. On 2 February, it renewed an agreement with Libya for another three years. Human Rights Watch reported that:
Since it was signed in 2017, the financial and technical support Italy provides to Libyan authorities has been key in facilitating the interception of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, forcing them back to Libya. There, migrants faced “murder, enforced disappearance, torture, enslavement, sexual violence, rape, and other inhumane acts … in connection with their arbitrary detention”, according to a June 2022 report by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya.
As Al-Jazeera reported, in September 2022 the International Criminal Court said that crimes committed against migrants in Libya:
may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Countless calls of distress
Meanwhile, the group Alarm Phone receives calls from refugees in distress at sea. It continues to receive constant calls for help from people at risk of drowning. Alarm Phone’s latest report states that:
In 2022, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 673 boats in distress in the central Mediterranean region. In view of 27 distress cases in 2018, 101 in 2019, 173 in 2020, and 407 in 2021, 2022 was by far the busiest year the Alarm Phone has experienced in this region.
The organisation said that:
About 105,000 people have arrived through the central Mediterranean route [in 2022]… despite European efforts to build up, finance, and equip the so-called Libyan coastguard over recent years, and despite intensifying cooperation between European and Tunisian authorities, people continue to succeed in escaping across the sea.
tens of thousands of people were not able to reach Europe, being abducted at sea and returned to the places they tried to escape from. Tunisian coastguards have repeatedly engaged in dangerous interception operations, some of which have ended deadly.
Alarm Phone’s social media feed is an illustration of just how frequently refugees are getting into trouble as they try to reach Europe. And instead of showing any ounce of humanity, Italy and its immoral European counterparts are doing all they can to ensure that those in distress are more likely to drown than be rescued.
Featured image via Al Jazeera English -YouTube
Additional reporting by Agence France-PresseSupport us and go ad-free
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