Last week the Libyan coastguard reportedly intercepted two boats with 170 people fleeing the conflict in Libya. The NGO Mediterranea denounces Maltase authorities for allegedly leading the coastguard to one of the boats and facilitating their return to detention camps in conflict-ridden Libya, where human rights violations continue.

Within 24h the second boat carrying refugees heading for Lampedusa was intercepted ca. 15 nautical miles away from Malta’s maritime search and rescue zone. According to the civil society organisation Mediterranea, Italian authorities refused the intervention of its rescue vessel Mare Jonio saying that the Libyan authorities were to deal with the operation. According to the ship’s captain, a Maltese military aircraft guided the Libyan coastguard to the boat carrying some 100 asylum seekers.

Beppe Caccia, head of mission on Mare Jonio accused the Maltese authorities of “repatriating” those intercepted to a detention centre at a port in Libya where they are likely to face human rights abuses: “We denounce this repatriation to an unsafe port, where human rights are not respected… this was a grave violation of human rights and international conventions.” Last week UNHCR stressed that Libya is not a safe port and that arbitrary detention must end.

The Mare Jonio left the Italian port of Marsala on Tuesday with a permission to sail as long as it does not engage in rescue operations. After a court ruled that Dutch authorities wrongfully prevented the rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 from sailing the NGO Sea Watch is preparing to resume their rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

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Photo: (CC) Stuart Rankin, March 2017

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