Italy fines and detains two rescue ships under the new decree as five police officers in Verona have been accused of torture and harm against migrants. The Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni have held talks with its Tunisian and Libyan counterparts to discuss cooperation aimed at reducing arrivals amid ongoing abuses towards people on the move in the North-African countries. President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen, PM Meloni and Dutch PM Mark Lutte are visiting Tunisia this weekend to discuss migration.
Five police officers in the Italian city of Verona have been arrested on charges of torture and bodily harm against migrants and homeless people that were committed from July 2022 to March 2023. Two of the suspects are also accused of racist hate crimes against black people and African migrants and two others have been accused of forcing a person in custody for identification purposes, to urinate on the floor and then using him as a “mop to clean up”. The investigators said the officers had taken advantage of their status to commit the abuse: “It cannot be denied that through their conduct all the suspects have betrayed their function, suppressing the rights and freedoms of people under their authority [and] offending their dignity as people, creating disorder themselves and compromising public safety, committing crimes rather than preventing them, in this respect clearly taking advantage of their status, even committing fraudulent misrepresentation in public acts with worrying ease”. Meanwhile, arrivals, as well as rescue efforts, continue despite the ongoing crackdown on civilian rescue operators. On 2 June, 29 people were rescued by Life Support operated by Emergency, including three women and a child who was at risk of dehydration and hyperthermia. The 29 were disembarked on 5 June after sailing for around 70 hours (662 miles) from the rescue site to the assigned port. On the same day, Mare*Go rescue ship rescued 36 people from distress and was assigned later to disembark in the port of Trapani, Italy – a minimum of 32 hours away. The crew decided to head to Lampedusa after communicating to the authorities that the ship “is not equipped to treat the rescued people on the move for that period of time”. This has resulted in the detention of the Mare*Go ship for 20 days which might also be fined. Also, Sea Eye 4 operated by Sea-eye was detained and fined 3,333 euros for conducting two separate rescue missions for a total of 49 people under the new Italian decree that doesn’t allow rescue ships to carry out several rescues in a row. “It is a political choice: it is absurd to punish those who save lives on the world’s deadliest migration route, the Central Mediterranean. Here, in 2023 alone, an average of almost seven people a day died and more than 5,000 people were brought back to Libyan camps by the so-called Libyan coast guard”, Albert Mayordomo, Life Support’s head of mission commented. And Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye said “Punishing us now for complying with international laws is justified solely on the basis of the new Italian law, which is designed to quickly remove civilian rescue ships from the area of operation and to allow them to call at distant ports in order to reduce the arrivals of people seeking protection as much as possible”. “The only real outcome from cases and policies that restrict humanitarian assistance and search and rescue at sea is state sponsored murder. Needless deaths occurring in conditions that we know we could have prevented”, said migratory health nurse Madi Williamson. On 3 June, RESQSHIP spotted a boat in distress carrying 39 people, including 4 unaccompanied minors, and the Italian coastguard rescued the people on board and brought them to Lampedusa. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM): “Less than halfway into the year Missing Migrants Project has recorded over 1000 migrant deaths in the Central Mediterranean. This marks a 1/3 increase in deaths compared to the same period last year”.
The Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited Tunisia on 6 June after months of talks aimed at stabilising the country’s economic situation and preventing a financial crisis that could trigger further departures from Tunisia towards Europe. Meloni is trying to ensure that the European funds to the tune of about €500 million could once again flow to Tunisia, as well as release almost $2 billion (around €1.8 billion) in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreover, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is going to Tunisia on 11 June to talk with the Tunisian counterparts on migration. His visit comes after he announced together Meloni that they will work towards deal with African countries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and PM Meloni are also going to join the meeting to discuss “broad cooperation” on economic cooperation, migration and trade. However, Tunisian President Kais Saied refused the “unacceptable” conditions required for the release of funds. Meanwhile, Tunisian coast guard recovered 9 more bodies from the 31 May shipwreck off the coast of the city of Monastir. Besides, protests of refugees in front of the offices of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). One of the protestors said that “institutions and organizations are once more leaving us behind and do not cooperate with us. They are just giving us deaf ears. The organizations neither care about the children nor about the pregnant women. We are stuck here without access to education, good medication, and justice” and called for their urgent evacuation from Tunisia. He added that the situation in the camp built in front of UNHCR and IOM offices is “getting worse” – 150 people including 15 children, 20 families and pregnant women are living in the tents enduring food shortage and yet more people are joining. On 8 June Alarm Phone reported of: “Escalating border violence in Sfax, Tunisia!” stating: “We have received reports that masked Tunisian forces are violently beating up migrants after intercepting them at sea. A witness reported: “They are using sticks and electric shocks. The people are screaming for help”.
Meloni welcomed a Libyan delegation including Libya’s national unity government Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in Rome on 7 June after a previous meeting in January in Tripoli to discuss migration, trade and energy agreements. Reportedly, both countries signed agreements, but details are still unknown. Meloni “expressed appreciation for the efforts made by the Libyan authorities in rescue operations at sea and the containment of irregular departures”, the government state in a press release, adding the Italian prime minister shared “concern” over the summer season and urged the Libyan counterpart to “intensify efforts in countering human trafficking”. Meanwhile, in a continued crackdown on migrants, Eastern Libyan authorities rounded up thousands of people on the move, mostly from Egypt, and amassed them at the border with Egypt for deportation. Groups assisting migrants estimated that 6000 people have been held at the border. Activist Tarik Lamloum with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights reported that the “migrants were detained in raids over the past two days on trafficking warehouses in the border town of Musaid and other areas in eastern Libya”. “The situation is bad and tragic. The area is not equipped (to host detained migrants)”, said Esreiwa Salah, an activist with al-Abreen group. The EU-funded so-called Libyan Coastguard intercepted 900 people between 28 May and 3 June, raising the total number of intercepted people so far in 2023 to 6684. On 7 June, the hotline Alarm Phone was alerted that a rubber boat carrying more than 100 people was adrift close to the Libyan territorial water. On 8 June, the organisation reported that 300 people who fled Libya in a fishing vessel are in distress with water entering the vessel. On the same day, the crew of Geo Barents of MSF sea witnessed the interception of 50 people in a boat in distress in the international water by the so-called Libyan coastguard after being alerted by Sea-Watch who said that “Frontex was aware about the distress case”. Before the arrival of Geo Barents to the scene, the crew also reported of “smoke rising on the horizon, indicating another boat engulfed in flames”. “Intercepting, forcibly returning people to Libya is unfortunately a common practice in the Central Med, with the support from Italy and the EU”, the organization said.
Cyprus unveils a campaign entitled “Let’s Talk Truth About Cyprus” directed towards asylum seekers especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa in an attempt to reduce the number of arrivals to the island. The island’s interior minister, Constantinos Ioannou, also said authorities had recently recruited additional guards and deployed additional resources to process asylum applications as a plan to establish a migration minister is being discussed for better management.
For further information:
- ECRE, Mediterranean: More Arrivals to Italy and More Deaths at Sea as Tunisia Grows Increasingly Dangerous for Migrants, Malta Continues Non-response Tactics and Facilitation of Returns to Libya, 2 June
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Significant Increase of Arrivals, EU Complicity in Cycle of Abuse in Libya, NGOs Continue Rescues and Strike Back on Criminalisation, Italy and France Clash Over Migration Amid Pushback Reports, 19 May