People continue to take the most dangerous route, the Central Mediterranean route, to reach to Europe despite an increased number of deaths amid Berlin’s suspension of a voluntary deal with Italy and the ongoing “senseless” war against civil rescue organisations. The ‘El Hiblu three’ youths remain stuck in limbo after 4 and a half years of waiting in limbo and 45 hearings.
The number of crossings from North Africa, in particular from Tunisia to Europe has more than doubled so far this year compared to the same period last year, reaching around 113,000 at the end of August. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows that since 2014, more than 28,000 people have lost their lives in their attempts to reach Europe, and the number of people reported dead or missing so far this year reached 2325, easily surpassing last year’s 12-month total of 1,417. European Parliament president Roberta Metsola suggested during a seminar before the annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) debate in Strasbourg that asylum processing outside the EU is the solution to avoid deaths at sea without any mention of safe routes. “I see the only solution would be for asylum applications to be processed outside the territory of the European Union in order for us not to end up in a situation where the most vulnerable people on the planet face an almost certain death in our sea”, she said.
Despite increased deaths, people continue to cross the Central Mediterranean in search of safety. On 9 September, Ocean Viking, operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE, rescued 68 shipwrecked people, from a wooden boat that had departed from Libya. The rescue ship was assigned to the distant port of Ancona to disembark the 68 survivors, requiring at least 5 days of navigation, “while there are crucial needs of SAR assets in the Mediterranean as departures are numerous & risk of loss of life high”. On 10 September, Sea Punks rescued 44 people including 17 children and an infant from an unseaworthy iron boat. The ship’s crew also saved the lives of another 33 people including 11 children. On the same day, RESQSHIP reported that “Nadir is currently accompanying a boat with 39 severely dehydrated people” adding that “Sea Punks are still searching for survivors of a reported shipwreck”. The organisation reported later that the search operation by Sea Punks didn’t result in any success, adding that “40 people are now missing”. On the same day, SOS MEDITERRANEE rescued 68 people and was assigned the port of Ancona for disembarkation requiring four days of navigation. The survivors landed in Ancona on14 September.
Sea-Watch International communicated on 11 September that “After 20 days of detention, our rescue ship Aurora is finally free again”, adding that “also, this time, the political harassment will not intimidate us. Our crew is preparing for their next operation and further rescue. As long as people drown in the Mediterranean Sea, we’re there!”. On the same day, NGO Caminando Fronteras reported another “tragedy” after shipwreck off Fuerteventura Canary Island that resulted in the death of 12 people including 3 women. On 12 September, the crew of RESQSHIP spotted two boats in distress carrying a total of almost 80 people. The crew later distributed life jackets to around 231 people in distress who were onboard five boats. “With no other rescue vessel in the vicinity, the cargo ship BBCEDGE approached the scene and evacuated 186 people from three boats”, the organisation reported, adding that “Among the people in distress were pregnant women and minors. 19 persons in critical conditions were taken on board the Nadir where they received medical care”. Alarm Phone said that on 11-12 September “our hotline was informed about 36 boats that had left from Tunisia towards Italy”. In all, by 13 September evening some 120 boats had arrived, Transport Minister Matteo Salvini said, carrying nearly 7000 people.
According to the Interior Ministry, nearly 124,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea this year, roughly double the number by the same time last year. Local Team said “At least 130 landings between Tuesday and Wednesday with an estimate of around 7,000 migrants arriving on the island”. “The ongoing arrival of people seeking safety from Libya & Tunisia to Lampedusa proves the ineffective migration policies in Africa & Europe. When ordinary people are affected, they seek durable solutions, security, & economic development without seeking permission from the state!”, said Activist Yambio David. “Lampedusa is currently facing political failure. Failure produced with open eyes. People arriving on the island are being received in structures that are deliberately inadequate and inhumane. The Italian state had the chance to increase the capacities on the island for years”, Sea-Watch International said, adding: “Italy uses this self-produced situation to justify its racist policies through a narrative of an allegedly overburdened Europe. The EU has its own clear agenda: Instead of fairly redistributing people, it continues to watch the negligence & deadly tactics of Italian authorities”. On 13 September, the hotline Alarm Phone reported about 47 people in distress off Lampedusa after their boat ran out of fuel, and Refugees from Libya reported about a Sudanese refugee missing “since August 1, 2023 in the Tunisian city of Sfax, from which he set off by boat across the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe”. On the same day, La Citta News reported the death of a 5-month-old child after ending up in the water shortly before the boat’s arrival on the shores of Lampedusa. On 14 September, ResQPeople carried out two rescue operations for two boats in distress carrying 96 people. The second boat sank on behalf of their eyes and resulted in the death of a woman, and Alarm Phone reported about 16 missing people in the Western Mediterranean since 11 September. Later at night, Sea-Watch International rescued over 80 people from two separate unstable boats. “Italy assigned us Catania on Sicily, hundreds of km away, as a port of safety. As we could not reach the distant harbor safely with all 84 ppl. onboard, 12 people were brought to Lampedusa by the 🇮🇹-coastguard. We‘re now on our way to Sicily”, the organisation stated. On 15 September, Alarm Phone reported about 76 people drifting in the zone of Malta after escaping from Libya.
Saving Human Mediterranea reported a “new escalation in the senseless war against civil sea rescue” after the Italian authorities threatened their shipping company to “remove from the ship, before her departure, any equipment and supplies on board for the performance of rescue service” underlining that a failure to comply with this order will result in detention for up to three months and a fine. The organisation stated that “the order and the intimidation came at the end of the inspection visit carried out by the Italian Maritime Authorities”. “After a long, thorough, and severe inspection” which began no 22 August and ended on 6 September and providing all the newly renewed documents”, the organisation added, underlining the “rescue ship” certification was “once again refused”. “What sense does it make to order a ship that is preparing to sail the most dangerous and deadly stretch of sea on the planet – where more than 2,300 people have lost their lives since the beginning of the year – to deprive herself of life jackets, inflatable boats, medicines and medical equipment and whatever else is needed to save lives in danger?”, stated the organisation in a press release. Moreover, Louise Michel rescue ship was ordered by the Italian authorities to abandon the search for a boat in distress carrying 44 people. “First they told us to look for the boat with 44 people in distress, then they told us to turn around again, abandoning the people at sea while a storm was approaching. They even told us the boat was ‘not at sea anymore’. Without giving any information. This is unacceptable. They seem prepared to let people drown,” the Operational Coordinator of Louise Michel stated. Meanwhile, the Italian government is set to open a center for unaccompanied minors in the northern Italian city of Bologna. Reportedly, the centre will host 50 people for a duration of 30 days to carry out medical checks, age assessment tests and track down potential relatives in the country. Another shelter opened in the city of Sassari to host minor and adult migrants. Reportedly, the shelter, run by a local diocese with the support of Caritas, accommodated 60 people including 25 unaccompanied minors since the end of July, due to lack of response from political leaders. New centres don’t provide sufficient capacity for the over 120,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy this year by sea- among them were over 11,000 unaccompanied minors.
Besides, Germany suspended the voluntary deal to take refugees in from Italy because Italy has “for some time” stopped receiving people being returned from Germany under the Dublin Regulation which applies to “over 12,400 people, only 10 of whom have been relocated to Italy so far”, as the spokesperson for Germany’s interior ministry said. Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni commented on this move saying that Italy had informed its EU partners about the country’s inability to receive migrants due to overcrowded migrant reception centers and therefore Italy “could no longer automatically take back” the asylum-seekers. “We can’t do this work if Europe doesn’t give us a hand to defend our external borders,” Meloni said. France is also enhancing border control with its borders with Italy over increased arrivals to Lampedusa. “We have a 100% increase in flows, which affects the Alpes-Maritimes and the entire Alps”, said French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin.
Meanwhile, the hearing of the three teenagers accused of terrorism in Malta for preventing an illegal push-back to Libya in 2019 (Elhiblu 3), which was supposed to take place on 12 September, was postponed as “some case files are being transcribed”. “4 1/2 years and more than 45 hearings after the trial against the #ElHiblu3 began, the evidence compilation keeps us in a limbo”, campaigners said and called for the end of this “farcical” trial.
For further information:
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Increase of Racist Violence and Scapegoating Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers in Southern Europe, Civilian Rescue Operators Continue to Save Lives Amid Increased Death Toll in Central Med, September 2023
- ECRE, Mediterranean: NGOs Calling for End of the Political Harassment Against Search & Rescue Amid Ongoing Deadly Crossings, More Documentations of Pullback Cases by EU-funded Libyan Coastguard as EU-Tunisia Deal Continues to Receive Criticism,