Despite worsening seasonal weather conditions, the Mediterranean route remains active with hundreds of people rescued and disembarked over the last week. The New Yorker has released a report that reveals how extensive EU funding is spent by Libyan authorities, documenting complicity in “horrific” human rights abuses. The war-torn country currently facing increasing political instability as elections approach.

Dangerous crossings have continued on the Mediterranean amidst unfavourable weather. Between 24-25 November the Italian coast guard saved 296 people, including eight children, onboard an overcrowded wooden boat under harsh weather conditions. A dramatic and complicated operation was successful in rescuing several people who were swimming for their lives in the dark without lifejackets. The survivors were taken to Lampedusa. Also on 25 November, 240 people including 44 children were taken to the port of Roccella in Calabria. They were rescued from an old fishing boat by police and soldiers stationed in the area. A Syrian woman gave birth on an overcrowded fishing boat adrift in a storm on 27 November, just hours before she was saved along with her newborn baby and more than 240 other survivors in a dramatic 16-hour rescue operation by the Italian coast guard and a Frontex patrol boat off Calabria. After days at sea and 48 hours waiting at the Sicilian port of Augusta, the last of more than 480 survivors onboard the civilian rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 were allowed to disembark on 28 November. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative Chiara Cardoletti noted a change in the demographics of arrivals, sayng: “right now on all the routes, what you are seeing is an increase in the number of families arriving with lots of children. And that is true also for the route to Calabria”. Data released on 28 November by the agency reveals that 18.9 per cent of arrivals in Italy in Italy were children and 7.1 per cent were adult women. According to the Italian interior ministry, the country has seen 62,236 arrivals by sea in 2021 so far. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 13,313 people have died or gone missing on the central Mediterranean route in 2021 as of 27 November.

The New Yorker has published an 11-month investigation revealing how: “the E.U. has created a shadow immigration system” in Libya. The report focuses on EU funding of and complicity in severe human rights abuse by Libyan authorities that include extortion, sexual abuse, beatings and torture in detention centres. The research uses wide-ranging data – including financial reports, interviews with MEPs, UN officials and aid workers, EU purchasing documents, freedom of information requests, flight-tracking data, and open-source social media – to show EU funding is spend on a range of activities with potentially dire rights impacts. Expenditure includes land cruisers used to intercept people crossing the southern border, buses transporting migrants to detention, shipping containers used as port offices, touch-screen tablets counting intercepted people disembarking, and even down the body bags used for detainees that lose their lives. The report states: “from the minute the migrants are brought ashore by the Libyan Coast Guard, E.U. money is used at virtually every step of the way to pay for how they are handled”. MEP for the Group of the Greens and member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Tineke Strik, that has assisted in the research stated: “If the E.U. did not finance the Libyan Coast Guard and its assets, there would be no interception, and there would be no referral to these horrific detention centers”. According to IOM Libya, 886 people were intercepted returned by the so-called Libyan coast guard between 21 – 27 November, bringing the total in 2021 so far to 30,990.

According to Anas El Gomati, director of the Libyan thinktank the Sadeq Institute, the resigning of the head of UN’s Libya mission, Jan Kubis, ahead of Libyan elections on 24 December is a “major indicator all is not well behind the scenes” in the country, She noted: “With a certain political crisis and looming military confrontation, Libya has no mediator”. Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of the Libya Observer and Libya Alahrar English says he has little faith in the election ending a decade of fragmentation and conflict in Libya, stating: “the list of candidates includes former ministers and officials, some war criminals… and some foreign-agenda-driven persons”. According to media reports: “Libya’s incumbent prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, has applied to run for the presidency. His candidacy has been brought into question by a string of allegations that he is embroiled in corrupt practices, money laundering, and financing of Ideological Islamists”. On 24 November the Libyan army set fire to the tents of around one hundred protestors remaining outside the UNHCR office in Tripoli, where demonstrations have been ongoing since a major violent crack-down on undocumented people by Libyan authorities in October. A 24-year old man from South Sudan – one of the hundreds of people who spent more than seven weeks camped outside UNHCR’s office urging relocation, stated: “We have reached the point of no return”.

In the first of five planned evacuation airlifts, 93 people were evacuated from Libya to Rome on 25 November. The evacuation took place under a new mechanism, combining emergency evacuations with the humanitarian corridors that have been established in Italy since 2016. UNHCR resumed evacuations after Libyan authorities in late October lifted a ban on humanitarian flights that had been in place for more than a year. UNHCR stated that 500 people would be evacuated through the new mechanism over the next year. Tunis-based spokesperson for the agency, Caroline Gluck, stated: “While this offers hope to some, it is not a solution we can provide for all.” UNHCR has evacuated or resettled 6,919 refugees and asylum seekers from Libya since 2017, 967 of whom were evacuated to Italy.

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