• Despite the death of 100 people so far in 2024, people continue to risk their lives to reach Europe.
  • The Italian authorities deemed the Cutro migrant boat “not of interest” before the shipwreck that led to the deaths of at least 94 people.
  • Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is aiming for a new partnership with Africa after a “successful” summit and Albania’s top court rules in favour of the controversial migrant deal that allows the construction of reception centres on its soil.

Nearly 100 people have been reported missing or dead in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2024, “more than double the toll recorded last year during the same period”, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  “The latest record of deaths and disappearances is a stark reminder that a comprehensive approach that includes safe and regular pathways… is the only solution that will benefit migrants and states alike,” said Amy Pope, the organisation’s director general. Meanwhile, people continue risking their lives in the Mediterranean. On 2 February, Alarm Phone reported about 125 people adrift in Maltese Search and Rescue zone after escaping from Libya. On 31 January, SOS Humanity spotted an overcrowded, unseaworthy wooden boat in distress carrying 64 people without lifejackets. The 64 people were brought onboard of the rescue ship after coordination with relevant authorities. However, they were “denied disembarkation as quickly as possible” as “The Italian authorities assigned the Humanity 1 the distant port of Marina di Carrara 1,200 kilometres away in the north of Italy”. En route to the assigned port, the crew of SOS Humanity spotted an overcrowded rubber boat with nearly 40 people on board and provided water and lifejackets.  29 January, the search and rescue organistion Sea-Watch rescued a group of 50 people after spotting their boat from its monitoring aircraft Sea Bird and reporting it to the authorities. On 30 January, Sea-Watch wrote on X: “On our way to the assigned port in Civitavecchia, we came across two boats in distress. As instructed by the rescue coordination center in Rome, we accompanied the people until Italian authorities arrived to rescue”. On the same day, the Ocean Viking rescue vessel saved the lives of 71 people, including a pregnant woman and five unaccompanied minors, from an overcrowded rubber boat sailing in the Libyan search and rescue zone, while the Geo Barents ship disembarked a group of 68 survivors in Genoa after four days of sailing. The Italian authorities later assigned the port Livorno for disembarkation, requiring 1167 km of additional navigation amidst worsening weather conditions. SOS Méditerranée denounced the Italian authorities’ distant port policy for “emptying the area of vital assets”. On 28 January, the crew of SOS Humanity assisted the Italian coastguard in the rescue of 42 people. After spotting the boat with the help of the Sea Bird aircraft, the Italian authorities requested the crew to assess the situation and wait for the coastguard. The crew of SOS Humanity delivered life jackets to the exhausted survivors who were later brought to shore by the Italian coastguard. On 26 January, the body of a migrant, whose boat had been wrecked due to the “violent wind”, was found near Siculiana, Sicily. Reportedly, the dead migrant was part of a group of approximately 60 people who “tried to escape but were found by the police” after arriving on land. On 2 February, Sea-Watch International exposed how Italy’s systematic practice of assigning distant port “sabotages” sea rescue operations and endangers the welfare of survivors. According to the organization, this practice wasted one year of operation time and forced rescue ships to navigate 150.538 extra kilometers.

A report obtained by Euractiv on the Cutro tragedy that led to the death of at least 94 people on 26 February 2023, has revealed new details on the incident’s events, including the role of the Italian coastguard and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). Six days after the tragedy, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in a press release that “no emergency communication from Frontex reached our authorities. We were not warned that this boat was in danger of sinking.” However, the Frontex incident report suggests that the Italian authorities inside the agency’s Warsaw headquarters indicated that “the case was not an emergency”. The Fundamental Rights Office reportedly wrote that cases like this “can escalate into emergency quickly” and said that “close monitoring, or even assistance by the Italian [authorities] of such cases [is] imperative”. The report shows that at least 94 people could have been saved with more effective and proactive coordination at sea. Sea-Watch commented on the report, underlining that the tragedy “isn’t negligence; it’s systematic and deadly border violence!”. Meanwhile, an investigation has found that smugglers have been increasingly recruiting people from former Soviet republics in Central Asia to lead migrant boats attempting to reach Europe. A report released by the Italian NGO Arci Porco Rosso and the German NGO Borderline Europe said that of the 68 boat skippers arrested by Italian police on the Turkey to Italy sea route on charges of illegally transporting asylum seekers from Turkey in 2023, “at least 18 had come from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan”, while the IOM noted that, in the same year, 7153 migrants, paying more than €8,000 each, arrived on one of the coasts of Sicily, Puglia or Calabria from the Turkish ports of İzmir, Bodrum and Çanakkale.

The Italian far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, hosted a one-day summit titled “Italy-Africa: A bridge for Common Wealth”, which was attended by more than two dozen African leaders and EU officials. The summit concluded with a series of initiatives aimed at boosting economic ties, creating an energy hub for Europe and curbing immigration, and pledging an initial €5.5 billion for a new partnership with Africa. Meloni, who considered the summit a “success”, insisted on the need to move from words to actions. With regard to migration, she said: “Mass immigration will never be stopped, human traffickers will never be defeated if we do not address the many causes that push a person to leave their home”, stressing “This is exactly what we intend to do”. Riccardo Magi, the president of the small, left-wing party Più Europa, questioned the presence of the European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen, who described the meeting as “a moment of intense and renewed cooperation between Africa and Europe”. Magi said: “She has been there [with Meloni] on other occasions, for example for the EU’s migration deal with Tunisia last summer, which completely failed, so her presence is no longer a guarantee of reliability, and unfortunately, not even credibility”. Meanwhile, Albania’s Constitutional Court approved on 29 January the nearly €650 million migrant deal with Italy under which thousands of migrants rescued at sea by Italian authorities would be sent to Albania while their asylum applications are processed. “The agreement does not harm Albania’s territorial integrity”, stated the Court in a press release. This step would pave the way for parliamentary examination in Albania and a vote in the Italian Senate despite concerns about human rights. Addressing the Italian Senate, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said: “Transfers to Albania to conduct asylum and return procedures raise important human rights issues, particularly freedom from arbitrary detention; adequate asylum application procedures, including screening and identification; and living conditions”. “Italy’s legal obligations under human rights and refugee law must not be undermined”,” said Turk, adding that similar arrangements had caused “great suffering and harm” in other countries, without naming them. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement: “Italy’s detention deal with Albania breaches international law and is abusive in many aspects, including by potentially creating legal limbo for vulnerable people” and “The plan raises many questions. How will diverting Italian rescue vessels to disembark in Albania, instead of the nearest safe Italian ports, impact Italy’s search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean? Will families be separated? Where, how, and by whom will “vulnerable” men be identified? How will Italian authorities guarantee fair asylum procedures or judicial review of detention in Albania?”.

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