During a meeting with EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson to discuss “illegal” immigration and human smuggling, Libyan Prime Minister, Abd Alhamid Aldabaiba confirmed that the so-called Libyan coast guard has intercepted more than 9,000 people in 2021. Five civilian search and rescue vessels are blocked by Italian authorities in the ongoing crackdown as fact check debunk claims that they constitute a pull-factor.
Following recent EU and Italy visits to Tunisia and the Libyan transitional prime minister’s visit to Italy, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson travelled to Libya on 7 June to discuss “migration and border management” among other topics. According to the Commissioner: “Concrete and practical steps to manage migration and borders comprehensively are best taken together. And we look forward to stepping up our joint efforts”. The international Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that 557 people were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya in the period of 30 May to 5 June. A total of 10,711 people have been intercepted and returned to Libya in 2021 and 675 are dead or missing at sea. The NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported of 43 people in distress off Libya on 10 June. The Geo Barents vessel operated by MSF Sea rescued 26 people including 15 unaccompanied children on 10 June. According to the organisation: “While the rescue was ongoing, the Libyan coast guard was verbally intimidating and threatening the MSF team via radio”.
The ongoing crack-down on civilian search and rescue continues. Just declared citizens of honour by the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, the crew from the German search and rescue ship SEA EYE 4, saw their ship detained by inspectors from the Italian coast guard. Inspectors allegedly found 23 irregularities including rescue equipment being sufficient to a maximum of 27 people on the vessel that recently landed more than 400 people from their latest rescue operation – in other words the saving of too many lives at sea. The Spanish Open Arms search and rescue vessel has been blocked for eight weeks in Pozzallo based on what the organisation calls an “absurd administrative alibi”. At a time of tragedy and loss of life on the Mediterranean a total of five civilian search and rescue vessels remain blocked by Italian authorities including Open Arms, Alan Kurdi, Sea-Watch 3 and Sea-Watch 4 as well as SEA EYE 4. German outlet Deutsche Welle has fact checked accusations often made by European politicians of civilian search and rescue operators constituting a pull-factor by giving people the incentive to attempt dangerous journeys. The conclusion is that there is no evidence of such a connection and although more research would be needed, current studies reveal that rescue activities do not increase the number of departures and that push-factors such as exploitation, imprisonment, and torture along the migratory routes are far more significant.
37 people, of which 35 were unaccompanied children who departed from Libya were rescued by Italian authorities on 3 June and taken to a reception centre after disembarking in Calabria. The group had been placed in a small boat tugged by a larger fishing vessel 80 kilometres off the Italian coast. The fishing vessel was intercepted after attempting to escape the scene and the eight alleged smugglers were detained. EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson has called for relocations from Italy, where according to Italian authorities 13,000 people arrived in 2021, in mid-May more than 2000 in just 24 hours. The call has been largely ignored with just a few member states offering to accept a total of 20 people so far. The United Nations commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, who recently defined the number of arrivals as manageable for member states, earlier stated: “What we need is a more predictable, more efficient, state-led mechanism to rescue people at sea”.
For further information:
- ECRE, Med: As European Migration Control Efforts in North-Africa Continue and EU Rejects Responsibility for Death at Sea – People Keep Dying, June 2021
- ECRE, Med: EU Focuses on Preventing Arrivals as Civil Search and Rescuers Fight to Save Lives, Arrivals Drop in Malta as the Scandalous El Hiblu Trial Continues, May 2021