MSF Sea is “appalled” and “outraged” over Malta’s continued neglect of its legal obligation to coordinate rescues and provide assistance at sea. Italy’s new government leaves almost 1000 survivors stranded at sea while it is contemplating a ban of entry for civilian rescue vessels. EU is expanding its cooperation on migration control with Egypt and Italy renews Libya agreement.

RESQSHIP reported the rescue of 28 people on 3 November by the Italian Coast Guard and according to the NGO hotline, Alarm Phone, Italian authorities rescued 50 people on 30 October and another 383 people on 1 November off Sicily. However, the deterrence and prevention policies of EU and member states remain deadly and on the same day, Open Arms stated: “More than 25,106 people have lost their lives since 2014 trying to cross the Med and today our thoughts are with all of them Innocent victims of a EU policy that deliberately refuses to save human lives at the sea”. Meanwhile, the civil fleet that will soon be joined by Sea-Watch 5, christened in Hamburg on 3 November, continue to save lives. The Civil Fleet reported of a rescue on 3 November of 77 people including children and babies from two small wooden boats in the central Mediterranean: “by the crew of the Rise Above, a smaller vessel operated by Mission Lifeline”. On 2 November, MSF Sea reported: “3 days. 7 rescue operations. 572 survivors waiting to disembark”. According to the organisation all survivors aboard the rescue vessel Geo Barents were rescued in Malta’s SAR zone with authorities ignoring requests for support and coordination. MSF Sea is “outraged” by Malta’s non-response tactics: “We are once again appalled that the Armed Forces of Malta has neglected its legal obligation to coordinate these rescues and provide assistance, even though the relevant authorities were informed all along. Had it not been for the NGOs’ joint efforts in less than a single day, MSF says almost 400 people could have perished”, the organisation stated, adding: “Indifference and lack of coordination by competent authorities is not acceptable”.

Disembarkations represent a test for the new Italian far-right government collation led by Giorgia Meloni. Interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi issued a directive on 25 October to police and port authorities stating that the civilian rescue vessels Ocean Viking and Humanity 1 were not: “in line with the spirit of EU and Italian regulations as concerns security, border control, and the fight against illegal immigration” and accordingly a ban from entering Italian waters is being assessed. Civilian rescue organisations have scorned Italian and Maltese authorities for leaving almost 1000 survivors rescued between 22 and 29 October stranded at sea off Sicily aboard Humanity1, Ocean Viking and Geo Barents. The rescues were carried out in Libyan and Maltese waters and with Italy now refusing disembarkation, rescuers are calling for help: “I urge the French, Spanish and Greek maritime authorities and others … to assist and facilitate an immediate disembarkation in a place of safety,” the Ocean Viking’s search-and-rescue coordinator Nicola Stalla said on 3 November. Meanwhile the crack-down on the civil fleet and refugees remains ongoing in Malta and Italy. On 29 October the Iuventa Crew facing severe charges in Italy over alleged collusion with human smugglers reported: “Again a postponement, again due to delays of the prosecution. Since our ship was seized 5 years ago people on the move continue to die every day off our coasts. Our solidarity does not stop, we will continue our fight in and out of court!” According to the organisation questioning was stopped due to insufficient interpretation. The Iuventa Crew further states: “We are in a position that guarantees us strong legal support and the means to make it public but this is not the case for most of foreign defendants, adding: “Migrants have been convicted by the thousands in Italy in recent years for “aiding and abetting unauthorised entry”, based on witness statements, signed documents and court hearings where no adequate translation and interpretation were provided”. The three youths charged with terrorism by Maltese authorities over protests in 2019 aboard the El Hiblu 1 vessel over the potential return of them and other survivors to Libya, are receiving support from other passengers: “We were the ones present, there, on the scene. I really do not understand why they chose to torture three of us. We all ask for justice for these three young men who helped us a lot during our journey across the Mediterranean Sea. We also ask all those willing to help us to demand from the Maltese authorities to give our three heroes their total freedom” reads a statement released by a survivor named Kamissoko.

Reports of violations and abuse by EU supported authorities outside Europe also continue to emerge. On 3 November, Alarm Phone reported: “Boat attacked off Sfax! ~35 people who left Sfax Tunisia called us. They report a Tunisia-flagged speedboat attacked & rammed them & say the Tunisian Coastguard is blocking them for hours, no way forward or back. Water is entering the boat through a hole. End this violence!”. Refugees in Libya, reported on 30 October: “In Tripoli Janzur, Syed area A 17 year old Ethiopian is being tortured by militias with electric shock while others place a gun on his head demanding $10,000 American currency. Everyday, hundreds are tortured for ransoms because we are seen as an easy source of income”. Despite recent protests over Italy’s cooperation with Libyan authorities and 40 organisations and three leading trade unions urging the Italian government to revoke the 2017 Memorandum with Libya it was renewed for another three years in early November. MSF Sea stated: “We are outraged that Italy decided to renew the agreement with Libya to block refugees’ access to the EU”. The organisation published testimonies by victims of severe abuse and violence in Libya.  At the same time EU is expanding cooperation with regimes with dubious human rights records.  On 30 October the union signed an agreement with Egypt for the first phase of an 80 million-euro border management programme. According to a document from the European Commission referenced by media the initiative comes in the context of rising arrivals of Egyptian nationals to EU: “From Jan. 1 to Oct. 28 this year 16,413 migrants arriving by boat in Italy declared themselves to be Egyptian, making them the second largest group behind Tunisians, according to data published by Italy’s interior ministry. In 2021 more than 26,500 Egyptians were stopped at the Libyan border”. A paper released by the Refugees Platform in Egypt (RPE), comments: “the EU has previously provided funding to strengthen migration management in Egypt, but in fact, the funds and support of the EU have contributed to tightening restrictions on irregular migration in Egypt, by using law No. 82 of 2016, the law in which among several things, it criminalizes aiding irregular migrants and contradicts with other laws that expand the circle of human rights violations against people on the move. RPE paper also criticizes the EU’s demand to enhance cooperation between Egypt and Libya in the field of migration, especially since the two countries have a long record of violations of the rights of migrants and refugees”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.