Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) blame European migration policies for the increased departures from Tunisia and ongoing tragedies in routes to Europe. NGO Rescue Ship Blocked by Italian Authorities for “rescuing too much people”. More reports and testimonies link systematic torture towards migrants by the so-called Libyan coast guard to EU support, yet the EU continues to defend its “essential” work with the Libyan authorities.

Arrivals to Italy are reaching new records despite ongoing deaths. In total 26,000 migrants have landed in the country since the beginning of 2023, including 1,771 Tunisian nationals. Over 3,000 people make the dangerous journey from Tunisia to Italy every day amid ongoing crackdown on migrants by the Tunisian authorities who claim at the same time that “protecting migrants” is “part of their DNA”. Tunisia “prevented” 14,000 migrants from reaching Italy’s coast irregularly, four times the figure recorded in the first trimester of 2022 and 13 times the figure registered in the first quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, rescue efforts continue due to ongoing departures from Tunisia. On 23 March, the Italian coastguard rescued around 750 migrants in two separate operations off the country’s southern coastline, hours after five boats sank off Tunisia leaving at least five dead and 33 missing. On 24 March, Geo Barents, a rescue ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), rescued 190 people in distress including nine women and a child and disembarked them in Salerno on 26 March. Over the weekend of 25-26 March, a total of 5,573 people were reported made their way to Italy and on the same day at least 29 people died in a shipwreck. FTDES blamed the “repressive” European policies for ” the irregular migration crisis in Tunisia”. “The EU is not really interested in democracy and the respect of human rights, but in the stability inside countries situated at its southern border”.  Pressure on Tunisia “is only aimed at strengthening controls and turning it into a buffer zone”, FTDES added. Meanwhile, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell described the situation in Tunisia as “very, very dangerous”, and fears that the EU will “be in a situation where new flows of migrants will come to Europe”. As EU officials are discussing relations with Tunisia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered Italy to pay compensation to four Tunisians who arrived in the country in October 2017 and later were deported to Tunisia. ECtHR found that Italy violated Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite continued distress alerts on the Mediterranean, the Italian authorities have blocked Louise Michele rescue ship for 20 days after it conducted multiple rescue operations. The NGO vessel is blocked due to alleged violations of the new “hostile” decree aiming to “stop people on the move from reaching a safe port and to keep civil ships from rescuing”. The ship is “detained for not ignoring Distress Calls on her way towards a safe port, and, according to Italian authorities, for rescuing too many people”, the organisation communicated. The latest report from the UN fact-finding mission to Libya found grounds to believe that a “wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups”. According to the report: “Migrants, in particular, have been targeted” and it further cites “overwhelming evidence” of systematic torture including sexual slavery, smuggling, trafficking, enslavement, forced labour, imprisonment, return and interception. The report points out that these violations committed by State-affiliated entities in Libya are technically, logistically, and financially supported by the European Union and its Member States. Another investigation by IrpiMedia notes an increase in return, interception and detention by the Libyan maritime forces that wouldn’t be “achieved without contributions from Italy and other European countries”. The investigation outlines that the Italian authorities have supplied at least 12 ships including managing their maintenance and providing equipment, and organised crew training. In addition, Italy built the Great Mediterranean Wall Project of external borders in Libya “spending almost one billion euro to push the borders further south to discourage departures from countries of origin and make migration less conspicuous to public opinion in Europe”. Meanwhile, the Commission continues to defend its work with Libya insisting that “it is essential” while at the same time claiming that it takes such allegations “seriously”. Commission spokesman Peter Stano rejected claims that the EU would pay to keep migrants in Libya. “We are not financing any Libyan entity. We are not giving physical money to partners in Libya,” he said, continuing “What we are doing is allocating a lot of money, which is then usually used by our international partners. A lot goes through the U.N., for example”.

Meanwhile, violations against migrants and rescue organisations by the so-called Libyan coast guard persist. On 27 March, the coastguard fired warning shots over the rescue ship Ocean Viking, chartered and run by SOS MEDITERRANEE, as it attempted to rescue a rubber boat in distress off Libya’s coast. In a press release, the organisation “condemned this escalation of violence and the deliberate compromising of the crew and shipwrecked people’s safety in the central Mediterranean by the EU-sponsored Libyan coastguard”. Furthermore, 344 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya between 26 March and1 April by the Libyan coast guard, raising the total number of intercepted migrants in 2023 to 4241 so far. In 2022 alone, IOM reported over 24.000 interceptions as well as 529 deaths and 848 people gone missing in the central Mediterranean. Besides, Hotline Alarm Phone reported on 3 April 500 lives at risk in international waters off Libya. Due to urgent distress calls being ignored by Maltese and Italian authorities, Geo Barents headed towards the boat in stormy weather to rescue the more than 500 people in distress. “After more than 11 hours of operation, the rescue is now over and a total of 440 people, including 8 women and 30 children, are now safely aboard Geo Barents and being cared for by the team”, MSF sea communicated.

A total of 490 per cent increase in asylum seekers has been registered in Cyprus since 2016, the country’s Interior Minister, Constantinos Ioannou, said. The Minister added that in 2022 alone, a total of 21,565 new international protection applications were filed and called for “the implementation of a European Union action plan for the Eastern Mediterranean”. Meanwhile. Cyprus relocated 76 Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers to France “under a European Union program to ease the burden on Mediterranean countries receiving large numbers of migrants.”

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