Mediterranean: MSF-Sos Mediterranee, 1,151 dead in 1 year

10,000 migrants forcibly taken back to Libya

12 June, 16:21

    ROME - One year since the Italian government announced it was closing the country's ports to humanitarian vessels, at least 1,151 men, women and children have been reported dead while over 10,000 have been forcibly taken back to Libya and exposed to further and useless suffering, Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have said. The NGOs asked to urgently guarantee an adequate search-and-rescue mission, ''including a coordination of competent authorities in the Mediterranean sea to avoid useless deaths''.

    ''The response of European governments to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea and in Libya was a downward race'', said Annemarie Loof, who is in charge of MSF's operations. ''One year ago we implored European governments to put people's lives in first position. We asked for an intervention to end the dehumanization of vulnerable people at sea for political ends. One year later, instead, the European response has reached an even lower point''.

    Ever since Italian ports were closed to search and rescue vessel Aquarius, managed by Sos Mediterranee in cooperation with MSF, exactly one year ago, ''the impasse has become the new rule in the central Mediterranean, with over 18 documented incidents'', the two organizations said. These blocks have lasted a total of 140 days, or over four months in which 2,443 men ''women and children were stranded at sea while European leaders decided their future. The criminalization of rescue operations at sea not only brings negative consequences for humanitarian ships but is also eroding the fundamental principle of assisting people in danger.

    Commercial and even military vessels are increasingly more reluctant in rescuing people in danger due to the high risk of being blocked at sea or being denied disembarkment at a safe port.

    Merchant ships carrying out rescue operations, in particular have an extremely complicated time if they are blocked or forced to take people back to Libya, against international law''.

    ''One year ago we were asking for political stalemates that are dangerous and inhuman at sea not to set a precedent.

    Instead, this is exactly what happened - said Sam Turner, the head of the MSF's mission in Libya - this political impasse between European countries and their inability to put the lives of people first is even more shocking today while fighting is continuing in Tripoli''.

    Over the last six weeks alone, a growing number of people tried to flee Libya, with over 3,800 people who attempted the crossing on unsafe boats. Even if UNHCR and other organizations like MSF requested the humanitarian evacuation of refugees and migrants from Libya since the start of the conflict in Tripoli, the reality, humanitarian organizations say, is that for each person that iwas evacuated or transferred in 2018, more than double the number was forcibly taken back to Libya by Libyan coast guards.

    ''The absence of humanitarian ships in the central Mediterranean in this period shows the lack of foundation of the attraction factor - said Frédéric Penard, director of operations of Sos Mediterranee - the reality is that even with an increasingly lower number of humanitarian ships at sea, people with few alternatives will continue to attempt this deadly crossing, regardless of the risks. The only difference now is that these people are now running a risk of dying that is four times higher compared to last year, according for the International Organization for Migration''.

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