Last week has seen a series of alarming developments on the Mediterranean including well-documented armed intimidation by a Libyan force toward an NGO ship carrying out a rescue operation, and a pull-back to Libya facilitated by Maltese authorities.

Video footage published by the NGO Sea Eye shows that their rescue vessel Alan Kurdi was threatened and shot at by a Libyan force during a rescue operation on October 26. The intervention led many of the 90 people rescued to jump over board out of fear. Despite signs of a political solution, the Alan Kurdi is still waiting to be assigned a safe port for disembarkation.

The civilian rescue vessel Ocean Viking, which rescued 104 people on 18 October, was allowed to disembark their passengers in the Italian port of Pozzallo in Sicily on Tuesday. According to the NGO SOS MEDITERRANEE (SOS), which operates the Ocean Viking jointly with Doctors without Borders (MSF), those rescued will be distributed to France, Germany and Italy. The ship was stranded at sea for twelve days. “The agreement of today is again an ad hoc solution with only 2 EU countries showing solidarity towards a coastal state. A predictable and coordinated mechanism will only work if a broader coalition of willing European countries come together”, stated Guillaumat, Operations Deputy Director of SOS.

On Monday, 44 people rescued in Maltese waters by the civilian rescue vessel Open Arms, run by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, have disembarked in Malta. They were brought to shore after being transferred onto an Armed Forces patrol boat. Back in the SAR zone on Tuesday, the Open Arms rescued another 15 people from distress in a rubber boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa. After searching for the boat for 24 hours the crew eventually detected it with the help of the reconnaissance plane Moonbird. Among those rescued were two toddlers and five children.

According to the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a distress hotline for migrants on the Mediterranean, Maltese authorities facilitated the interception by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard (LGC) of a boat in distress in Maltese Waters. The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) had confirmed that they received the distress call via Alarm Phone but did not intervene. Seven hours later, the RCC informed the NGO that the LGC had intercepted the boat from within the Maltese SAR zone. Alarm Phone could confirm that those intercepted were disembarked in Tripoli and transported to the Triq al Sikka detention center, which is known for its inhumane conditions and severe human rights violations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), launched an investigation into the actions of Maltese authorities. Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean commented: “The problem is that the migrants were disembarked in Libya. That’s certainly a violation of maritime laws … It’s clear that Libya isn’t a safe port.”

In the meantime, Amnesty International Italy warns that, a memorandum on cooperation between Italy and Libya will be automatically renewed on November 2, if the government does not actively cancel it. The memorandum includes a series of agreements financed by Italy, which among other things foresee that the Libyan coast guard intercepts and reports people trying to flee to Europe in boats.

Missing Migrants has recorded 1086 deaths of people trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in 2019.

For further Information:

Photo: (CC) Óglaigh na hÉireann, October 2016

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