At least 20 lives lost in yet another tragedy as the total of confirmed dead or missing in the central Mediterranean closes in on 1,000 in 2022. Maltese authorities continue tactics of being non-responsive to alerts of distress and requests for disembarkation. Reports of abuse in Libya continue as deadly clashes between rival militias erupts in Tripoli.

Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration confirmed that two people had died and 19 were missing after a boat carrying Egyptian nationals capsized off the north-eastern coast of the unsafe country. Reportedly at least six people survived. In reaction to the tragedy the NGO hotline Alarm Phone stated: “Stop this endless dying in the Med!” On 24 August the Lebanese navy recovered at least ten bodies while searching for a wreck of a capsized boat. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 940 people have been confirmed dead or missing on the central Mediterranean in 2022 as of August 27. The number could easily have been higher. On 24 August civilian rescue operator SOS Mediterranee published a non-exhaustive list of narrowly avoided large-scale tragedies occurring in their area of operation over two weeks.

On 27 August the German NGO RESQSHIP reported the rescue of 59 people by its vessel Nadir. According to the organisation eight people were evacuated for medical reasons while the rest of the survivors were allowed to disembark in the port of Lampedusa only after 40 hours stranded at sea. On 29 July IFRC Europe reported: “Over the last days, Ocean Viking operated by SOS Mediterranee has completed 10 rescues within only 60 hours. Being exhausted physically and emotionally, 460 survivors are now getting much-needed support from SOS Mediterranee and IFRC teams”. On the same day six survivors including a nine-month-pregnant women and two children – one a three-week-old girl were medically evacuated from the Ocean Viking by the Italian coastguard. The 460 survivors are awaiting a safe port of disembarkation many have been onboard the Ocean Viking for more than a week and according to the organisation: “A majority have either physical or psychological conditions or both”. On 30 August, MSF Sea reported its sixth rescue operation within 72 hours bringing the total of survivors onboard its rescue vessel Geo Barents to 235 people including 61 minors and young children. An additional rescue on 30 August of 32 people who had departed three days earlier from Libya brought the total to 267. The survivors are still awaiting permission to disembark despite numerous requests to Malta and Italy. On 27 August SOS Humanity announced the first mission of its recue vessel Humanity 1. According to the organisation the vessel: “will reach its destination in international waters off the Libyan coast in a few days where its crew will assist people in distress at sea”. On the same day the Spanish rescue organisation Open Arms disembarked 99 survivors in Messina, Sicily after they had been stranded at sea for 10 days. On 26 August the Italian Coast Guard announced that it had rescued and brought more than 1,000 survivors to Sicily from the central Mediterranean Sea. Alarm Phone has reported of several other boats in distress including off Lampedusa and Libya.

In the context of the ongoing situation on the Mediterranean local media in Malta have been quoting ECRE’s Asylum Information Database recent country update on the conscious prevention tactics of authorities: “Since May 2020, and throughout 2021, the Armed Forces of Malta drastically decreased rescues at sea. In 2021, the Maltese Government continued to deny disembarkation to individuals rescued at sea, in particular where the rescue was conducted by NGO vessels”. The facts that just 119 asylum seekers have been rescued by Malta in 2022 and that only one asylum seeker was brought to Malta since 14 May illustrate that the approach is unchanged. The latest episodes include the abandoning of 60-80 people in Maltese waters on 31 August and according to the Civil Fleet with authorities ordering a merchant vessel to refuse them assistance. Despite merchant vessels in the area no rescue was conducted and on 2 September Alarm Phone reported it had lost contact with the group for more than 24 hours, stating: “Anxious relatives are calling us, asking for news. Malta is ignoring all requests for information, and treating the fate of the 80 people as a state secret. We demand answers…” On 26 August 70 people including five children were reportedly in distress adrift on the Med with Maltese and Italian authorities unresponsive. On 28 August Sea-Watch reported of Illegal non-assistance in Maltese search and rescue zone (SAR) by the private company VROON despite alerts by its Seabird plane. On 29 August Alarm Phone reported of 17 people in distress in Maltese SAR zone with authorities unresponsive. Reportedly, the group that consisted of 18 people were rescued by the MSF Sea vessel Geo Barents. Sea-Watch reported of another incident on the same day when a Maltese military vessel ignoring alerts resulting in the group being pulled back to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. On 31 August, Alarm Phone reported of 57 people adrift in the Maltese SAR zone with the axe of their boat broken and Maltese authorities as well as merchant ships refusing assistance.

Interceptions by the EU supported so-called Libyan Coast Guard continues as does the severe abuse they face upon return to the unsafe country. Deadly clashes have erupted between rival militias in the capital of Tripoli with at least 32 people killed and 150 wounded including civilians. The volatile security situation has forced the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to suspend humanitarian work: “We have been monitoring the situation closely and have had to temporarily suspend some of IRC’s programmes within Tripoli as a result of the fighting. Our affected programmes include the provision of critical healthcare services to vulnerable Libyans, as well as protection activities for migrants and refugees in Tripoli,“ said IRC Country Director in Libya, Tom Garofalo on August 28. According to IOM more than 14,000 people have been intercepted and returned in 2022 so far as of 27 August.

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