Med: Alarming Numbers of Interceptions

While this week over 500 people have been rescued and brought to Europe by civilian and state agents more than 200 have been intercepted before reaching Europe. According to a UN report more than half of people departing from Libya have been returned to places where they may face abuse and torture.

A number of rescues have been carried out at the Mediterranean this week. Tuesday, the Armed Forces of Malta rescued 76 people and brought them to a Maltese port. The rescue came after the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for migrants in distress at sea, stated that it had informed the Maltese authorities about the boat already on Monday, but did not receive a response. The same day, the Italian coastguard rescued 180 people from a small boat in the Maltese Rescue zone, 35 miles off Lampedusa. reportedly bringing them to Malta. On Monday, they had rescued 108 people from two boats and disembarked them in the port of Rocella, Southern Italy.

The rescue vessel Ocean Viking, operated jointly by the NGOs SOS MEDITERANEE and Doctors without Borders (MSF), disembarked 176 rescued people in the Italian port of Taranto on Wednesday morning. The ship under Norwegian flag rescued 74 and 102 people in to operations off the coast of Libya on Sunday.

A number of vessels carrying refugees or migrants were Intercepted before reaching Europe. Tunisian authorities reported blocking a boat carrying 110 people from setting off for Italy. Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said three coast guard boats pursued the alleged smuggling vessel after it left Friday night from the city of Sfax, Tunisia, and eventually forced the boat back toward Tunisia. They picked up 25 people who had jumped into the sea.

A Spokesman of the so called Libyan coast guard (LGC) stated that they intercepted a rubber boat with 90 people off the Libyan coast, east of Tripoli, on Tuesday. Those intercepted were reportedly brought to shore on Wednesday and will be taken to a Tripoli detention center. A 2019 update of the Desperate Journeys report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that 58% of people who departed from Libya by sea in 2019 were later disembarked back in Libya, usually following interception or rescue by the Libyan Coast Guard.

UNHCR continues to stress that due to the volatile security situation in general as well as reports of serious abuses against refugees and migrants in detention, centres Libya cannot be considered a safe port, and no one should be disembarked there after rescue at sea.

More lives were lost at the Mediterranean this week. A two month old baby and a child died on Monday after a boat carrying 35 people sunk off the coast of Ayvalik district in Turkey’s Balikesir province. The group was trying to reach Greece from Turkey. The Turkish coast guard rescued 33 people after being alerted by Alarm Phone.

Source: European Council on Refugees and Exiles