Last week, Maltese and Italian ships picked up 435 people on the Med. 124 were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard. As weather conditions enables more departures from the North African coast towards Europe UNHCR urges EU politics to focus on saving lives.

Last weekend a Maltese armed forces patrol boat rescued 216 people from two dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea and brought them to Malta to examine their health and give them the opportunity to seek asylum. On Wednesday the Maltese navy rescued another 75 people found clinging to a tuna pen. The Maltese military stated it had coordinated multiple joint rescue operations in conjunction with the Italian coast guard and “in support of the Libyan coast guard.”

After finding 54 people from Pakistan onboard a sailboat off the coast of Calabria, Italian authorities took them to a migrant centre and reportedly arrested two Russian nationals onboard the US-flagged boat on human smuggling charges. On Thursday, an Italian Navy ship intervened to rescue 90 migrants aboard a rubber dinghy that had been in difficulty since Wednesday morning off the coast of Libya. On the day of the recue, the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for people in distress in the Med, stated in a Tweet that the Italian vessel “had monitored the boat in distress yesterday already and could have rescued them earlier. This act of #non-assistance risked the lives of 90 people. Now these survivors have to be brought to a port of safety in #Italy.” According to the migrants a 5-year-old girl had died on board while waiting for rescue but no deaths have been confirmed.

After the interception and return of 290 people last week, the Libyan coast guard said it picked up 124 people in two rubber boats off the city of Zuwara and returned them to Tripoli, Libya, despite reports on on-going fighting and abuse. According to the NGO Sea watch their reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird spotted nearby vessels that did not immediately engage in rescue.

As weather conditions improve, the number of departures from the North African coast grows. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that two boats carrying a total of 103 migrants arrived on the island of Lampedusa having left Libya three days before. In light of the recent European election a representative of UNHCR Germany, Dominik Bartsch, stated “every day that passes is costing the lives of men, women and children. No matter what the parliament and the commission are going to look like, saving the lives of people needs to take priority.” The EU needed a binding quota system to distribute those rescued, Bartsch further said.

On Thursday, UNHCR announced, that amid violent clashes and a deteriorating security situation in Tripoli they evacuated 149 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers to Rome. In 2019, more than 500 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean according to the International Organisation for Migration.

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Photo: (CC) Fabien LE JEUNE, June 2015

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