Turkish and Libyan coast guards representing key-partners for the EU on the European Agenda on Migration, are accused by search and rescue conducting NGOs of attacking refugees in distress on the Mediterranean Sea and conducting illegal pushbacks in violation of maritime and international law. The NGOs Lighthouse Relief and Refugee Rescue relate the escalation to EU externalization policies.

In a statement of concern submitted to UNHCR, Lighthouse Relief and Refugee Rescue demand full investigation of an incident on 10 November. Turkish Coast Guards ramped a refugees’ dinghy, used a firearm and conducted illegal push backs in Greek territorial waters.  With the help of a volunteer rescue team, Greek Coast Guards transferred 17 refugees to Lesvos, while 20 refugees were taken back to Turkey.

A few days earlier, Libyan coast guards intervened in a rescue operation conducted by Sea-Watch III 30 nautical miles north of Tripoli. As pictures and footages document, the Libyan vessel nearly overrun the rubber boat in distress, failed to use available rescue equipment and appropriate measures to  rescue people overboard and treated refugees on board as well as operating crew members in a harmful way. It is reported, that the incident contributed to the death of five people. According to German media, Libyan authorities deny the allegations despite documentation.

Regarding the incident involving Turkish and Greek coast guards, the NGO Refugee Rescue  points to the EU Turkey Statement. “This report adds to a long list of human rights violations and so-called push backs by the Turkish Coast Guard. … As shown the EU-Turkey Deal still threatens lives every day. Now it the time to put pressure on authorities that undermine their international obligations and needlessly put lives at risk. This abdication of responsibility by the EU and its member states has no basis in international law,” reads their statement.

In relation to the accusation against the Libyan Coast Guard, Sea-Watch Head of Mission Johannes Bayer stated: “These deaths have to be blamed on the Libyan Coast Guards who have obstructed a safe rescue with their brutal behavior. The responsibility is on the side of the European Union, however, who trains and finances these militias. They act in the EU’s will. The European governments finally have to draw conclusions from this incident and stop the collaboration with the Libyan Coast Guards. The EU has to stop to rate migration control higher than human rights.”

The recent Report from the European Commission the Progress on the European Agenda on Migration describes how: “The implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement has continued to play a key role in ensuring that the migration challenge in the Eastern Mediterranean is addressed effectively and jointly by the EU and Turkey,” and further states that: “The EU’s dedicated efforts to support the Libyan Coast Guard have continued.”


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Photo: (c) Sea-Watch, November 2017