MSF Sea & SOS Mediterranee who operate search & rescue vessels in the Mediterranean are reporting that the European Union & Libya are restricting & interfering with rescue operations. Last week, Libyan authorities announced they will establish a search & rescue (SAR) zone in international waters off the Libyan coast & will restrict the access of rescue vessels. Libyan authorities are also creating blockades for those attempting to leave Libya & Libyan coast guard ships are “rescuing” them at sea & returning them to Libya where they face kidnap, rape, sex trafficking, torture, slave labor, arbitrary detention.
As a result, MSF has suspended search & rescue operations of its ship Prudence. SOS Mediterranee continues to operate its ship Aquarius in those waters because they haven’t yet received formal notice from Libya of the restriction but they are monitoring the situation so as not to endanger rescue personnel. MSF will continue to provide medical assistance on the Aquarius.
UNHCR reports regularly on the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean on the different routes (from Turkey to Greece, Morocco to Spain, Libya to Italy). It’s estimates of drownings are completely unreliable since they are not monitoring the numbers of boats leaving Libya or the numbers of refugees packed into each one. According to their most recent report, 97,241 refugees from Libya reached Italy just in 2017. MSF says it has rescued about 67,900 on the Libyan route since 2015. While UNHCR estimates that 2,420 are dead or missing on all of the Mediterranean routes in 2017, MSF estimates that one in 36 refugees drown attempting to cross just on the Libya to Italy route. That is a staggering number of drownings & monstrous human rights crimes by the European Union & Libya.
No one need attempt to offer a cogent defense for the European Union whose policies have proven a death trap to immigrants & refugees. Asylum to the millions displaced around the world is one of the most important political issues of our era. Those institutions that get it wrong, causing death & harm to tens of thousands of refugees, have no reason for existence except to obstruct & destroy human solidarity.
Immigration is a human right. Asylum to refugees is international law. Open the damn borders.
(Photo is rescue operation on SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius)