• Search and rescue organisations have reported rescuing more than 500 people in 10 days during which there were also 90 deaths.
  • Search and rescue organisations have condemned dangerous interference by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard during rescue missions and repeated their calls for closer ports of disembarkation.
  • Migrant detention centres in Italy are referred to as ‘worse than prison’ amid ongoing calls for their closure.

People are continuing to risk their lives and perish in the Mediterranean in pursuit of refuge. On 18 March, 51 people, including two women and a child, were rescued off Lampedusa, Italy but two others died after their boat capsized during the rescue. On the same night, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s Ocean Viking rescue vessel disembarked 336 survivors in Ancona, Italy. “While we’re relieved that they reached a place of safety, we remember the 60 women, men and children who perished along the way and all those who disappeared without a trace in the Mediterranean,” the organisation wrote on X.  On 16 March, Doctors without Borders’ (MSF) Geo Barents vessel rescued 171 people from two different boats while receiving threats from the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. On the same night, the ship also rescued 75 people from an overcrowded boat after 45 of them fell into the water. The NGO EMERGENCY rescued a total of 123 people on 11 and 16 March. “The 249 survivors on board Geo Barents disembarked this morning [20 March] in Marina Di Carrara. Among them, 80 children, many of whom were unaccompanied and several aged less than 3 years,” MSF posted on X. Tragically, on 15 March, at least 22 people, including seven children, died after their boat capsized off the Turkish island of Gokceada in the Aegean Sea. On 14 March, in another tragic event, at least 60 people were feared dead after their boat lost power while attempting to cross from Libya to Italy or Malta. Survivors gave accounts of how they were dehydrated and hungry for days before they were rescued. “People died along the way. I met a man who lost his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old baby. The baby died the first day, the mother the fourth day. They were from Senegal and had been in Libya for more than two years,” said one of the survivors. On the same day, according to the International Organization for Migration’s MENA report, 34 people were feared to have drowned after their boat sank off Tunisia and two bodies were recovered. A day earlier, SOS MEDITERRANEE said it had worked with the Italian Coast Guard to rescue 25 people in a “very weak” condition and that two unconscious people had been flown to Sicily by helicopter. “The tragedies of this week further underscore the severity of the ongoing crisis in the Central Mediterranean Sea, the deadliest route for people on the move in the world,” stated the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and SOS MEDITERRANEE in a joint press release. The two organisations also repeated calls on all states to “prioritize sea rescue and to uphold maritime law and human rights along Europe’s southern sea border”. The Mediterranean remains the deadliest migration route: at least 29,250 women, men and children have died in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

Meanwhile, sea search and rescue organisations continue to report harassment by Italian authorities and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. NGOs working in the central Mediterranean have repeatedly warned that the Italian government’s policy of allocating ports further north is keeping their rescue ships out of waters where they could be saving lives. EMERGENCY wrote in a press release: “To arrive at the POS [place of safety] in Ravenna, it took us four days of navigation. The assignment of distant ports leaves the search and rescue area uncovered, while there continue to be new distress cases”. “The distant port assignment also affects the rescued people, who are in vulnerable conditions. It forces them to spend additional days at sea and experience further instability, when they should disembark as soon as possible in a safe place,” the organisation added. On 16 March, MSF published footage of their crew rescuing all 45 people who fell into the sea while the Libyan Coast Guard boat funded by Italy recklessly manoeuvred in front of the Geo Barents, endangering both the survivors and the crew. Four days later, following multiple rescue operations, the Geo Barents, received a 20-day detention order from the Italian authorities under the Decree Law 1/2023 for allegedly “failing to comply with the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) instructions during a rescue operation on Saturday 16 March and for endangering the lives of the people we rescued”. On 14 March, four NGOs issued a joint statement denouncing the increase in administrative stops ordered by Italian authorities on humanitarian ships rescuing migrants. “It is a scandal that the ship crews of rescue ships in the Central Mediterranean were threatened by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, financed by Europe, and that after having safely delivered the surviving migrants, they are then kept in Italian ports based on false and illegitimate charges”, said a spokesperson from SOS Humanity. The statement was issued after the Italian government had detained three NGO rescue ships (Humanity 1, Sea-Watch 5, and Sea-Eye 4) “based on false accusations, from carrying out their rescue work”. On 18 March, a judge at the ordinary civil court in Crotone, Italy ruled that the detention of the Humanity 1 on 4 March was not lawful and consequently ordered its release with “immediate effect”. The two other rescue vessels remained in detention.

In Italy, a new report by ActionAid and Openpolis has highlighted administrative shortcomings and a surge in direct procurement in the country’s emergency reception system, indicating a lack of transparency and efficiency. The report also criticised the government’s migration policy for institutionalising practices that violate the rights of migrants and minors. After the migration decrees of the Meloni government and the declaration of a “State of Emergency”, a press release by the two organisations stated that “regulations governing services and costs remain absent, resulting in arbitrary actions by prefectures”. While human rights organisations have continued to call for the closure of detention centres described as “worse than prison”, the deplorable conditions of the centres were the focus of reporting by InfoMigrants. “Prison has the goal of rehabilitation and integration into society. There are specific programs and services for people deprived of liberty to meet this goal. But at migrant detention centres, you are just waiting to serve an expulsion order. There are no programs or services. A lot of the migrants spend much of their time doing nothing,” Eleonora Celoria, a lawyer and researcher from the Forum of International and European Research on Immigration, told reporters.

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