People continue taking dangerous journeys to Europe despite expanded partnerships with third countries and tactics to delay or prevent assistance to people in distress.
Search and rescue efforts continue on the Atlantic Route as well as the Mediterranean route, the main route for arrivals to Europe. On 25, Spain rescued a boat near the island of Gran Canaria carrying 84 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, one of whom had died. According to Spanish government data, 5,914 people arrived in the Canary Islands between January and mid-July this year, a 31.5% drop compared with the same period last year. But around 41% of them arrived in just one month between May 15 and June 15. On 24 June, Open Arms Fund located and rescued a precarious wooden boat with 36 people on board in international waters in the central Mediterranean and another 37 people who were adrift in a boat that had left Libya three days earlier also in international waters, a total of 73 people were first appointed Port of Naples for disembarkation. After evacuating a person with critical health condition and “Due to rough seas, with strong winds and waves of more than 3 meters, the crew of the Open Arms has asked the Italian authorities for a landing port closer than Naples”, the organization said, adding that “Prolonging the suffering of the 72 people rescued on board is useless and inhumane”. Hours later, Open Arms Fund announced their disembarkation in the port of Salerno. On 23 June, Mission Lifeline Rescue ship supported several hundred people in distress onboard nine boats in the Italian SAR zone off Lampedusa, in coordination with the Italian authorities. The rescue ship was requested to evacuate the survivors of two boats, a total of 85 including women and children, to be assigned later to a distant port of safety that requires three days of sailing. On the same day, RESQSHIP provided support to 17 people on board a boat in distress and accompanied the boat towards Lampedusa for hours. The boat was later rescued by the Italian coastguard. Moreover, on the morning of 24 June, Senegalese officials reported that at least 17 people were found dead after a boat capsized in Dakkar while attempting to reach the Canary Islands. Furthermore, Helena Maleno from NGO Walking Borders reported that Senegalese canoe which left Senegal 14 days ago and disappeared with more than 120 people on board in an attempt to reach Spain is still missing.
On 22 June, the hotline Alarm Phone was alerted by a boat in distress carrying 40 people. “We assume that this boat, carrying approximately 40 people, safely reached Lampedusa”, the hotline communicated. On 20 June, NGO Emergency conducted four rescue operations following calls from the EU border agency Frontex, Alarm Phone and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to rescue 184 people including 26 women, of whom two are pregnant, and 56 children, of whom 26 are unaccompanied. Authorities assigned two different ports of disembarkation; a new Italian tactic used to obstruct the work of rescue organisations. At least six people have died in an attempt to reach Spain after their boat sank off northern Morocco on 22 June, another disaster that has sparked calls for an investigation into the involvement of the Moroccan Navy in shipwrecks. On 19 June, the organisation Alarm Phone reported that 80 people who fled in Libya were adrift, adding “MRCC Rome said that the Tunisian navy would intervene. They need to be rescued & shouldn’t be brought to Tunisia, which is not safe”. The organisation stated afterwards that relatives “believe the group was rescued by Italian forces”. On the same day, MARE*GO assisted 9 distress cases (approx. 400 people). The crew supported the Italian coastguard, who came to the scene five hours after the distress call, with the evacuation of eight boats and the MARE*GO ship took the survivors of one boat, a total of 38, on board”. The organisation further stated “MRCC Rome assigned us a place of safety in Trapani, even though other ports were closer by. For the survivors on board, this means an additional 30h exposed to the sea and the sun”, the organisation reported.
On 18 June, another shipwreck occurred in the Atlantic resulting in the death of 24 people out of 61 people on the vessel. On the same day, NGO RESQSHIP took 138 people on board while stabilizing four boats carrying a combined 156 people. The NGO communicated that 119 disembarked in Lampedusa and the Italian coastguard rescued the rest of the boats. Moreover, the Moroccan navy communicated on 18 June that it rescued more than 800 migrants and recovered one body between July 10 and July 17 amid increased attempts to reach Spain. During 16-17 July, Geo Barents, operated by Médecins sans frontières (MSF), rescued 12 boats in distress, 11 of them had left Tunisia. “A total of 462 survivors were onboard before Italian authorities instructed the disembarkation of 116 people in Lampedusa, while assigning Livorno as the designated place of safety”, MSF communicated, adding “We find no reasonable grounds to send MSF rescue ship, with survivors aboard, from one port to the other, spending additional days in navigation, prolonging the time survivors spend on board and the time we cannot be at sea to provide rescue whenever needed.” The Italian coastguard’s assignment of successive rescues to NGOs violates the Italian decree which stipulates only one rescue can be performed before disembarkation. In the period of 16 – 22 July 2023, 206 migrants were intercepted and returned by EU strategic partner, Libya. Meanwhile, a body of an 8-month-old baby who was travelling with his parents was found on the Spanish coast on 11 July three months after the same shipwreck that killed his mother.
The majority of people on the move use the Central Mediterranean route in an attempt to reach Europe, making it the “top migratory route into the EU” in the first half of 2023, according to data by Frontex. The number of detected irregular crossings through this route rose to almost 65,600 in this period, the “highest number on this route for this period since 2017 and nearly 140% more than a year ago”. Almost 11,600 children made the dangerous crossing to Europe so far this year and the majority were unaccompanied, according to UNICEF. Meanwhile, the number of deaths on routes to Europe is on the rise. June has been so far the deadliest month of the year, registering 781 deaths while 221 are reported dead or missing in July. UNICEF reported that “at least 289 children are estimated to have died or disappeared this year attempting to cross the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea migration route from North Africa to Europe. This equates to nearly eleven children dying or disappearing every week as they search for safety, peace and better opportunities”. Moreover, NGO Walking Borders estimates the death of 800 people taking the Atlantic Route only in the first half of this year. “EU immigration policy like boat pushbacks & non-intervention do not deter people on the move. They only force them into more dangerous routes — endangering more lives. But these practices are deadly by design”, lecturer Siobhán McGuirk wrote in an op-ed.
For further information:
- ECRE, Search & Rescue: Parliament Records a “Big Victory” After Adopting Resolution Calling for More Action to Save Lives as Tragedies and Rescue Efforts Continue, July
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Increased Arrivals to Italy Amid Reports of Prison-Like Reception Conditions, 40 People Missing After Another Shipwreck, Ongoing Abuses by EU-Funded Libyan Coast Guard, Malta’s “Criminal Behaviour” Towards People in Distress Exposed Again, June