• The search and rescue (SAR) NGO Médecins Sans Frontières Sea (MSF Sea) has renewed its calls for safe and legal pathways after it recovered the bodies of 12 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.
  • The Sea-Eye SAR NGO has won a court case against the seizure of one of its vessels in Italy.
  • Greek Police have issued an arrest warrant for the founder and CEO of the NGO Aegean Boat Report, Tommy Olsen.
  • NGOs representing survivors of the Pylos shipwreck have called for accountability and answers from the Greek authorities on the first anniversary of the tragedy.

On 7 June, the search and rescue (SAR) NGO Médecins Sans Frontières Sea (MSF Sea) retrieved the bodies of 11 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya. On 8 June, another body was spotted in the water, bringing the total number of deaths to 12. “As we cannot determine the reason behind this tragedy, we know that people will continue to take dangerous routes in a desperate attempt to reach safety, and Europe must find safe and legal pathways for them,” MSF Sea said in a X post. “This catastrophe must end,” they added. Sea-Watch, another SAR NGO, whose aircraft spotted the bodies, said that it was unclear whether the dead were victims of a previously unknown shipwreck. They said that they had tried to contact the Libyan coastguard to collect the bodies but had received no response. “The so-called Libyan coastguard – financed by the EU – ignored our call demanding that the bodies be recovered,” Sea-Watch said.

The Sea-Eye SAR NGO has won a court case relating to the seizure of one of its rescue vessels by Italian authorities in March. The Sea-Eye 4 was seized under the Piantedosi Decree that prohibits NGOs from carrying out several rescues in succession without first returning to port for disembarkation. Italian authorities claimed that the Sea-Eye 4’s crew had disobeyed orders from the Libyan coastguard. A court in Reggio Calabria nullified the authorities’ 60-day administrative seizure of the ship, describing it as “illegitimate” and “invalid”. The judge also noted that no objections to Sea-Eye 4’s actions had been raised by the Libyan coastguard at the time of the rescue. Gorden Isler, the director of Sea-Eye, described the judgment as “a meaningful victory for us, and for all other sea rescue organizations”. He also said that it showed that the detention of civil rescue ships was “an abuse of state power”. According to ECRE member organisation the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), the Piantedosi Decree is “an instrument formally intended to regulate the rescue of migrants at sea, but which in reality clearly aims to make rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea more difficult”. Following Sea-Eye’s victory, the court ordered the Italian authorities to pay € 10,860 in compensation and costs.

On 14 May, an arrest warrant for the Norwegian human rights defender Tommy Olsen was issued by the Greek authorities. Olsen is the founder and CEO of the NGO Aegean Boat Report (ABR) which monitors and shares data relating to migrants’ movements in the Aegan Sea. The case against him began in 2021 when ABR was accused of facilitating “illegal migration flows” but it was subsequently dismissed due to a lack of evidence. In 2023, Olsen and Greek human rights defender Panagiotis Dimitras were charged with migrant smuggling and being members of a criminal organisation. “No court [in Greece] has convicted any humanitarian,” Olsen’s lawyer, Zacharias Kesses, told EUobserver. “But there are many humanitarians who suffered from pretrial detention or remained in a legal limbo for four or five years,” he added. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, X posted: “He [Tommy Olsen] is being targeted in what appears to be an arbitrary investigation criminalising his work in defence of the rights of migrants”.

14 June 2024 marks the first anniversary of the deadly Pylos shipwreck in Greece. On 14 June 2023, more than 600 people are believed to have drowned after an overcrowded trawler, the Adriana, sank off the coast of Pylos. The Adriana was carrying approximately 750 migrants of which only 104 survived. On 21 May, a Greek court dismissed a case against nine of the survivors who were accused of people smuggling and causing the shipwreck. A separate investigation into the Hellenic Coast Guard is ongoing. “Hundreds of families have been left in limbo, awaiting the truth on the fate of their loved ones,” said Adriana Tidona from Amnesty International. “The Greek authorities must advance in their investigations into the potential liability of the coast guard in this incident to finally bring justice and closure to all those affected,” she added. In a press conference, a number of organisations, including ECRE member organisation the Greek Council for Refugees, who are representing survivors of the tragedy called for “answers and accountability” from the Greek justice system. “The Pylos shipwreck is not a tragic ‘accident’, it is a crime and cannot go unpunished. It is a chronicle of many deaths that were foreseeable, a crime committed over a period of 15 hours due to the actions and omissions of the Greek port authorities,” said Eleni Spathana from the NGO Refugee Support Aegean.

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