A line of 28 lifeless bodies of migrants who drowned in the sea, trying to reach Europe after the sinking of the boat in which they were traveling, appeared on Saturday on a beach on the west coast of Libya. Less than a week ago, 160 migrants were also killed off the west coast of Libya in two shipwrecks. And at the end of November, 75 people drowned in the same area when a boat chartered by mafias with which they tried to cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life sank.
Shipwrecks are also a constant on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands. And in the Aegean Sea, where on Saturday, on the Greek island of Antikythera, at least 16 people died trying to reach Italy from Turkey. Most were Syrians, Afghans and Palestinians. Recent tragedies expose that Europe continues to assume that dying is part of the price to pay to reach its territory. The succession of shipwrecks consolidates the central Mediterranean as the most lethal route in Europe.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has brought immigration back to the center of European talks. He calls on the EU for “clear action plans, adequately financed and equitably directed to all Mediterranean routes”, but has not yet achieved significant progress. The former president of the European Central Bank defends a “balanced, efficient and humane” management of the issue, capable of defending national borders, combating human trafficking and offering an adequate reception, he said last week at his press conference on balance of the year.
The International Organization for Migration has registered 1,692 dead and missing at sea as of December 21, almost 300 more than in the previous year. Since 2014, 23,150 people have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean in their attempt to reach Europe. The IOM also claims that the actual number of deaths could be much higher, as several shipwrecks go unreported and many others are difficult to verify.
Last July, the Italian Executive renewed the financing of the collaboration agreement with the Libyan coastguard. The questioned Libyan Coast Guard is a militarized body in which paramilitary forces cooperate, equipped and trained by the EU, which patrols the Mediterranean, obstructs some rescue operations and captures migrants who are sent to a network of detention centers by various militias Libyans who enrich themselves with this seclusion.
The Italian Parliament revalidated this controversial mission that has been underway since 2017 despite calls and requests for boycotts from numerous humanitarian organizations that allege that these types of pacts contribute to sustaining the systematic violations of human rights that migrants suffer in Libya. But on this occasion, Italy has asked that from next year the management of the mission in Libya come under the European umbrella, through the IRINI mission, activated by Brussels in 2020. Its main objective is to enforce the embargo of arms of the United Nations to Libya, but also deals with the training of Libyan soldiers and coastguards.
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From 2017 to 2020, Italy has allocated € 22 million for the Libyan Coast Guard training and support missions alone, as noted by the Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI). The Government plans to allocate another 10.5 million.
Matteo Villa, an ISPI researcher specialized in migration, exposes the ineffectiveness of the agreements with the Libyan militias and the reinforcement of the Coast Guard. “Italy and Europe still do not follow the policies to combat irregular flows with those to rescue people, so the number of deaths has tripled since last year. On the contrary, they block the few NGO ships, even though the data shows that their presence at sea has no effect on the number of people leaving Libya, ”he says.
The Italian government has tried to reverse the trend in recent months. He has announced safe and legal humanitarian corridors for hundreds of migrants and refugees, asked his community partners to replicate the example, and highlighted that migrants are a “valuable resource” for European economies. He has also called on Libya to close the detention centers. “Rome is practically alone in Europe in these corridors, and Tripoli turns a deaf ear to Italian requests. And so we continue, subsisting, until the next crisis, “says Villa.
The few migration policies at the European level depend on the cooperation of countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, such as Libya, Tunisia or Morocco, to manage irregular migratory flows. On the other shore, Italy, Spain or Greece face alone the management of arrivals.
In Libya, irregular immigration is a crime and foreigners are locked up indefinitely. In several of these detention centers, in the hands of different militias, abuse, torture, extortion and exploitation of migrants have been reported. “There is uncertainty around the situation in Libya due to covid-19, especially for those who are in detention centers,” reads an internal report from the European Commission to which THE COUNTRY has had access.
The total number of arrivals through the Central Mediterranean, the route that leads to Italy and Malta, reached 63,766 people in mid-December, an increase of 81% compared to the same period in 2020. According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, as of mid-December On December 6, 9,160 unaccompanied minors had arrived. In the case of the Malta landings, they all depart from Libya. Libya is also the majority origin of the ships that arrive on Italian shores. 29,457 migrants have departed from there, followed by Tunisia (19,318), Turkey (11,735) and Algeria (1,314).
In November, 8,720 departures from the Libyan shores were registered, the highest number since July 2017, according to the NGO Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. In addition to the increase in departures, the number of Bangladeshi, Egyptian and Syrian nationals is growing, the boats are more loaded and more use is made of wooden fishing boats.
A thousand migrants waiting for a safe harbor
Two humanitarian ships are waiting in a port with a thousand migrants on board after having rescued them in the central Mediterranean. The Geo Barents Doctors without Borders, which carries 558 migrants, suffers an increasingly complicated situation. “Some have been on board for 11 days, including children and people with increasingly exhausted medical conditions. They are overcrowded on the boat ”, Caroline Willemen, project coordinator of the Geo Barents. “Many have suffered violence in detention centers in Libya, they need medical care. Your current circumstances only add to your situation. It is urgent to find a port. Now that Europe is celebrating Christmas, it is time to welcome those of us on board ”, he adds.
Boat Sea Watch 3 of the homonymous NGO has carried out five rescues in three days and now carries 444 migrants on board. “We spent Christmas on board with people looking for safety, who were left alone with their vests fighting against the sea. As European politics gleefully talks about charity, it leaves thousands of people drowning outside its door. The humanitarian catastrophe in the Mediterranean knows no holidays “, says Mattea Weihe, head of mission on board the Sea Watch 3.
Despite bad weather and adverse conditions at sea, barge departures from the African coasts bound for Europe have not stopped this fall or winter. The Ocean Viking, from the NGO SOS Mediterranée, recently disembarked in the port of Trapani, in Sicily, after nine days of waiting for the 114 migrants on board, including two newborns. While the 216 castaways rescued by the German organization Sea-Eye landed this Friday in the port of Pozzallo, in Sicily.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.