During an official visit to Italy on 31 May transitional prime minister of the Libyan national unity government, Abdulhamid Al Dabaiba reiterated Libyan commitments to counter ‘illegal’ migration, while Italian prime minister Mario Draghi urged “rapid and determined” EU intervention. EU rejects conclusions from a recent report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of complicity in death at sea on the Mediterranean as the loss of life continues.

Following a recent high-level visit by EU and Italy to Tunisia and plans to enhance cooperation with Libya on migration prevention Libya’s transitional prime minister visited Italy where the same topic was on the agenda. The Libyan minister praised his Italian counterpart, Draghi, for having pushed EU institutions to have a global approach and a common financial commitment to tackle the migrant issue. Draghi, for his part stated that Italy: “will continue to do its part in terms of resources and training ability, but determined and rapid action by the European Union is needed.” He further noted that based on an Italian proposal migration will again: “be the focus of political attention at the European Council in June”. Meanwhile, Europe’s North African partners remain highly active on the central Mediterranean. International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports the interception and return of 495 people between 23-29 May. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 274 people including three children were intercepted by the so-called Libyan coast guard in two operations on 31 May, Pilotes Volontaires providing search and rescue support from the air reported of the interception and return of 60 people on the same day. The NGO hotline Alarm Phone reports of an interception by the Moroccan navy of a boat carrying 11 people leaving one person behind in the water as the boat capsized. The total number of people returned and detained in Libya in 2021 stands at more than 10,000. The systematic violence, abuse, and exploitation at the hands of authorities, militias and criminals operating with impunity is well documented in Libya and UN agencies and INGOs in the country are reportedly facing increasing obstacles and red-tape. Tunisian authorities confirmed the arrest  of more than 200 people for attempted “illegal migration” after two boats en route from Libya and Tunisia to Italy where intercepted by Tunisian navy and coast guard. According to Amnesty International undocumented migrants and asylum seekers are arbitrarily detained in overcrowded conditions making it: “impossible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, posing a grave risk to the health of all those who worked and stayed there”.

The European Commission rejected the conclusion of a recent report by OHCHR of the complicity of: “States in the region, as well as the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, the EU Naval Force for the Mediterranean, the European Commission,” in human rights violations and death at sea. “The European Union is not the cause of this tragedy of irregular migration and the fact that persons are losing their lives,” said EU commission spokesperson, Peter Stano on 28 May. Meanwhile, death at sea continues. Alarm Phone reports of a boat in distress on 31 May and the loss of 16 lives. At least 23 people seeking to cross from Libya to Italy drowned on 1 June in a shipwreck off Tunisia. Three children, including a six-month-old baby and a three-year-old child, who’s bodies washed ashore in Libya last week are believed to have been aboard a boat bound for Europe with other life’s likely lost in a possible shipwreck.

50 survivors aboard the rescue vessel Aita Mari, operated by the Spanish organisation Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SMH) were allowed to disembark in the Sicilian port of Augusta on 1 June, five days after their rescue. SMH expressed their gratitude that the Aita Mari was allowed to return to sea after concluding COVID-19 testing without quarantine – Italian authorities have often blocked departures of civilian search and rescue vessels and recently placed the German rescue vessel SEA-EYE 4 under quarantine despite the crew testing negative for COVID-19. 162 people arriving from Tunisia in six different boats were reported on 28 May to have disembarked in Lampedusa. 102 people, including 48 children, arrived in Cyprus from Syria on 25 May after waiting for permission to disembark for five days.

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