The European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a new EU-wide search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean. People continue to take dangerous journeys to Europe as rescue efforts resume.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution requesting a new and coordinated EU-wide search and rescue mission to be implemented by EU countries and Frontex, the EU border agency over Mediterranean “disgrace”. The resolution, which was put forward by a broad cross-party coalition including the European People’s Party (EPP), Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left. It calls on the Commission to assess current Member States’ practices regarding SAR operations, investigate shipwrecks, provide support to member states to enhance their capacity for saving lives at sea and share data about EU and Member States’ funding to third countries including Libya, Turkiye, Egypt, Tunisia and Morrocco. and on Frontex to enhance the information available about its SAR operational activities. The text adopted also calls on member states to “maintain their nearest safe ports open to NGO vessels and to not criminalise those who provide assistance to migrants in distress,” a sign sent to the Italian Prime Minister who continues to crackdown on NGOs conducting rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The text also explicitly accuses Libyan authorities of transferring intercepted migrants to detention centres, where they are exposed to “torture and other ill-treatment, including rape”. The Parliament condemns criminal smuggling and trafficking whilst underlining that “safe and legal pathways are the best way of avoiding loss of life”. The left in the Parliament described the approval of the resolution as a “big victory for people on the move trying to reach Europe safely”.
Meanwhile, people continue to take the increasingly deadly central Mediterranean route. The Tunisian coastguard reportedly recovered the bodies of 13 sub-Saharan African migrants and rescued 25 after their boat sank off Sfax en route for Italy. On the same day, the Alarm Phone hotline reported 45 lives in danger off Tunisia who were later rescued by a fishing boat except for two people who had fallen overboard and died. Reportedly on the morning of 13 Day, a 4-year-old child traveling with his mum on a boat lost his lives. On 12 July, the hotline stated that they lost contact with 28 people drifting in the Maltese search and rescue zone and assumed that “the people were returned to Libya, which is the place they were trying to escape from”. On 11 July, the crew of Humanity1 rescued 204 people from distress at sea in four rescues within a very short time including pregnant women and 50 unaccompanied minors. “In the evening 2 survivors had to be evacuated by Italian authorities for medical reasons, along with three relatives”. The organisation added that their crew stabilized two other boats with a total of about 100 people in distress and waited until the coast guard carried out the rescue. Instead of ensuring a speedy and safe disembarkation, the Italian authorities assigned them the port of Ancona, which requires three days of navigation. In response to the infamous Italian tactic, five leading NGOs submitted a complaint to the European Commission (EC) about Italian Law 15/2023 and the practice by Italian authorities of assigning ports distant from the area where the rescue took place, to disembark people from humanitarian search and rescue vessels”. The Commission “should uphold and protect the fundamental rights of all people across Europe. But instead, search and rescue NGOs are the ones filling the shameful void at sea left by EU member states. Rather than obstructing their work, EU member states should involve them in setting up a proper system for search and rescue activities”, says Giulia Capitani from ECRE member Oxfam Italia.
On 9 July, at least ten migrants went missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia, bringing the total number of people dead or missing off the Tunisian coast in the first half of 2023 to more than six hundred. On the next day, Seabird, operated by Sea-Watch International, spotted the interception of 250 people in distress by Libyan militia Tariq Ben Zayed vessel despite the Maltese Armed Forces urging the militia not to do so. The militia vessel made fun of the crew of Seabird when they told them that there was a vessel capable of conducting a rescue operation. On 7 July, Ocean Viking, operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE, rescued 46 people including 4 single women, a 4-year-old girl travelling with her father and more than 10 unaccompanied minors from a fiberglass boat in distress drifting in the international waters off Libya. After this rescue, the boat received a mayday relay about a boat in distress with 11 people onboard and went to evacuate them. Following their evacuation, the so-called EU-funded Libyan coastguard began a series of dangerous yet unfortunately unsurprising manoeuvres, first attempting to block the route of the two speedboats at an extremely high speed and then proceeding with opening fire. Shortly after this incident, the Italian maritime authorities first instructed Ocean Viking to proceed towards the location of a boat in distress with more than 250 people onboard in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region and later was ordered not to proceed as “coordination of the distress case was taken over by Maltese maritime authorities”. “The boat was forcibly intercepted by a Libyan Navy ship”, the organisation communicated. “It is the third time since the beginning of this year that the crew of the Ocean Viking faced a dangerous incident during a rescue operation. IFRC and SOS Mediterranée call upon all governments to ensure humanitarians can provide lifesaving support at sea without risking their lives”, the organisations stated. Ocean Viking disembarked the 57 survivors on 11 July after three days of sailing as the Italian authorities assigned a distant port of safety over again. After their disembarkation, the Italian authorities conducted a 7-hour-long Port State Control (PSC) inspection of the boat, which resulted in its detention for an indefinite period due to the identification of “very few technical and administrative deficiencies” which “have never been flagged during the 7 PSCs undergone by the Ocean Viking in the past four years”. “Not only are civilian ships filling the deadly gap left by European States in the central Mediterranean and saving lives, whilst being endangered themselves by EU-sponsored Libyan coastguard firing nearby during rescue, they are then being sent to distant ports for disembarking survivors, before additionally being detained by authorities”, SOS Mediterranée underlined in a statement. On 13 July, Sea-Watch’s Aurora and its crew rescued two boats from Libya: one with 80 people and the other with 40. The Italian Coast Guard brought all survivors ashore in Lampedusa. On 14 July, Alarm Phone reported that 45 people were adrift off Tunisia. The NGO stated: “The engine of the boat in distress already stopped working 3 days ago, but they couldn’t call for help earlier as they had no phone reception until now”.
People continue taking the fatal Canary Islands route. On 13 July, Salvamento Marítimo rescued a boat carrying 22 people from Algeria including 2 women and 2 children. On the night of 10 July, two men (19, and 22 years old) were discovered stowed away on the rudder of a ship that arrived from Togo to the Canaries, who were taken later to safety. Info Migrants noted that “Under Spanish law, any stowaway who does not seek asylum must be returned by the operator of the ship to the port where the journey originated”. The Spanish coastguard rescued 86 people off the Canary Islands on 12 July while carrying out a search operation for three missing vessels which departed from Senegal 18 days ago, carrying a total of at least 300 people. On 14 July, Helena Maleno Garzón from NGO Walking Borders reported another tragedy in which 20 people were found dead in one of the Senegalese canoe after sailing in the sea for at least two weeks while 40 people survived. In a statement, Save the Children called for the EU and its Member States to urgently improve search and rescue efforts at sea. “Once again, hundreds of lives at sea are lost as people and families on the move try to make their way to safety in Europe. Deaths on the move are not inevitable: one of the reasons for such deaths at Europe’s land and sea border is the EU’s failure to provide safe and legal routes for those seeking safety”, Federica Toscano from the organisation said. Meanwhile, for the first time, the Spanish persecutor has requested the opening of an investigation over the failure to provide assistance for at least 39 people who died off the coast of the Canary Islands on June 21 “after a severely delayed rescue effort by the Moroccan coast guard”. The tragedy sparked criticism amid aid workers who described the practice as “common”. Coordination between Spanish and Moroccan counterparts “works well when it comes to fending off refugees”, they said.
For further information:
- 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, 30 June
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Ongoing Arrivals and Deaths Amid Negotiations Between Tunisia and EU Officials for “Better Border Control”, Maltese Prime Minister Renews Calls for Joint Cooperation to “Combat Migration” As Accusations by NGOs of Pushbacks & Non-Response Tactics Mount Up, Abuses by Libyan Coast Guard Continue, 23 June