Amid new waves of arrests of migrants, Spain provides another 30 million Euros to Moroccan authorities for migration control on top of hundreds of millions from the EU. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) documents thousands of lives lost on the Atlantic and Mediterranean as the death toll continues to rise. Italy increases funding to the so-called Libyan coastguard as protests against cooperation agreement continue.

While Spanish and Moroccan authorities have yet to ensure a thorough investigation of the deadly tragedy at the Melilla border, Morocco has responded with waves of arrests of migrants. Reportedly the crack-down continues with activists on the ground seeing repression towards black people on the move and days of attacks, imprisonment and deportations by authorities in the northern border region. Meanwhile, Statewatch quotes local media reporting that Spain’s Council of Ministers: “has approved sending another €30 million to the Moroccan authorities for migration control purposes”. According to the coverage: “Morocco has now received €123 million from Spain for migration control since 2019. The EU has distributed €346 million to the North African state in the same period, and is due to send €500 million more up to 2027”. Dangerous attempts to reach Spain by sea continue and 150 people were rescued in numerous operations by Salvamento Marítimo on the night between 20 and 21 October off the coast of Granada and Almeria. Another rescue by Salvamento Marítimo of nine Algerian nationals was reported on24 October with survivors arriving safely at the Port of Almería.

IOMs Missing Migrants Project has documented at least 5,684 deaths on migration routes to and within Europe since the beginning of 2021. According to IOM: “At least 2,836 deaths and disappearances were documented on the Central Mediterranean route since 2021 (as of 24 October 2022), an increase compared to the 2,262 deaths recorded between 2019-2020. On the West Africa-Atlantic route to the Spanish Canary Islands, 1,532 deaths were documented in the reporting period, a figure already higher than any two-year period since IOM began documenting deaths in 2014”. The UN agency further notes that: “On both of these long, hazardous overseas routes, data for the current year is highly likely to be incomplete given the labour-intensive process of verifying all-too-frequent ‘invisible shipwrecks’ – cases in which entire boats are lost at sea without any search and rescue being conducted”. Recent tragedies illustrate the extreme danger of sea routes to Europe and non-response by member states. On 21 October, the NGO hotline, Alarm Phone reported: “There was an explosion on a boat travelling through Malta SAR, close to Italy’s SAR zone. 2 persons died, and several persons are feared missing. While we can’t say for sure yet, we believe it was a boat we alerted authorities to yesterday”. On 23 October, seven Palestinian youths originating from the Gaza Strip drowned attempting to reach Europe after a shipwreck off the Tunisian coast, while others remain missing. On the same day, it was reported that a boat had capsized near the uninhabited islet of Lampione, 39 survivors were taken to Lampedusa by Italian authorities but a two-week-old baby is missing. On 25 September, Alarm Phone released detailed information on the tragic death of a four-year-old girl and an unborn child in September stating: “European actors, including the Maltese and Greek authorities, could have prevented these deaths. Merchant vessels were near the boat in distress and could have been instructed to intervene. Instead, they chose to wait and leave the boat abandoned. This act of non-assistance is only one of many. Non-assistance and pushbacks have become systematic and it is also due to this violence that people seek ever-longer and ever-more dangerous migration routes, including the one from Lebanon to Italy. European authorities hold responsibility for these deaths andthe ongoing mass dying along Europe’s maritime borders”. Latest examples of non-response tactics reported by Alarm Phone include 35 people adrift 80 nautical miles off Malta on 26 October, 29 people drifting south of Lampedusa without food or water in Malta’s SAR zone on 25 October, and on the same day, 90 people intercepted by the so-called Libyan coast guard despite being in Malta’s SAR zone and authorities alerted.

While Sea-Watch 3 remains blocked in Italy and the Aita Mari vessel expected to sail for the central Mediterranean after repairs is awaiting delayed inspections, rescuers are facing a hectic period as good weather generates departures across the Mediterranean. On 26 October, Alarm Phone could finally confirm the rescue of more than 1,300 people aboard two boats in distress in the shared SAR zone between Italy and Malta after departing from Libya. The rescue by “Italian assets” came after 12 people had died or gone unconscious and one person reportedly had gone overboard. Another group of 400 people reported in distress on 24 October off Sicily after departing were rescued by Italian authorities on 25 October. On 23 October, 32 people adrift in the Maltese SAR zone were confirmed to have arrived in Italy supported by a merchant vessel. The civilian rescue fleet remains extremely busy as well. After a series of rescues, the Ocean Viking operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE has a total of 234 survivors aboard including children and people suffering from dehydration and severe burns. After numerous rescues, Humanity 1 operated by SOS Humanity is carrying 180 survivors and according to the organisation the vessel: “is now in international waters off Sicily with 180 rescued people, waiting to be assigned a port of safety. So far, all 4 requests from 23-27 Oct to all relevant authorities – including rescue coordination centres in Malta and Italy – have been without success”. Among the survivors are: “1 baby & over 100 minors (almost all unaccompanied). 5 persons have signs of physical violence, including gunshot wounds & pain from beatings. Survivors of the 2nd rescue report that 6 people drowned the night before the rescue”. The disembarkation of the more than 380 survivors according to the Guardian presents the “first test” of new Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni who leads Brothers of Italy, “a party with neo-fascist origins” and a far-right government coalition also including also the notorious former Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini who has been charged over attempts to block disembarkations. The decision on allowing disembarkation lies with the new Minister of Interior, Matteo Piantedosi and according to the Guardian: “It is not yet clear whether Italy would prevent disembarkation or if it would block vessels from entering Italian waters and transfer their passengers onto Italian coast guard boats”. On 22 October, the Geo Barents vessel operated by MSF Sea could disembark 293 survivors in the southern Italian port of Taranto. According to the organisation, the survivors approximately half of whom were children had faced: “harrowing journeys, abuse, and detention in Libya”. Already on 27 October, the organisation was back in operation reporting: “A busy day at sea for our team. 268 people have been rescued in 4 hours, from 4 boats in distress located in Maltese search and rescue region. The alerts were shared by Alarm Phone”.

Interceptions and return to Libya continue. On 24 October, SOS MEDITERRANEE reported of several interceptions by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Sea-Watch International reported yet another violation of international law by the so-called Libyan coastguard on 26 October when its airplane Seabird spotted 70 in distress in Malta’s SAR zone and were threatened by the EU-funded guard, stating: “Get away from Libyan territory, otherwise we will shoot you by some missiles”. On 27 October, Alarm Phone reported of 64 people in distress in Libya and later confirmed that they had been intercepted and returned by the so-called Libyan coastguard to “face imprisonment and torture”. On the same, day Sea-Watch International posted documentation of illegal conduct by the Libyan guard “Europe’s partner of choice” and stated: “We have regular indications of cooperation with smugglers “. Meanwhile, support from the EU and member states to Libyan authorities show no signs of slowing. Italy has provided Libya with funding for another 14 fast ships to intercept people in a contract worth 6.65 million euros. In a comment, MSF Seastates: “Since 2017, the EU and Italy have spent millions of euros supplying and training the Libyan authorities to stop arrivals to Europe. By doing so, the EU is directly financing illegal pushbacks of people to Libya and their return to arbitrary detention, violence and torture”. Following recent widespread protests over Italy’s cooperation with Libyan authorities 40 organisations and Italy’s three leading trade unions have urged the Italian government to revoke the 2017 Memorandum with Libya expected to be renewed in early November for a period of three years. According to the organisations: “It is an agreement that has had dramatic consequences for the past five years on the lives of thousands of migrant and refugee women, men and children, including abuse, exploitation, arbitrary detention and torture”.

16,627 people had “disembarked on Libyan shores” in 2022 as of 1 October, according to the International Organization for Migration  IOM Libya. The majority of these people would have been intercepted and returned by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard which is funded and trained by the EU and its member states.

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