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15th Apr 2024

EU Commission: Libya unfit for migrant disembarkation

  • People rescued at sea and returned to Libya often find harsh conditions (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

The European Commission says Libya fails to meet basic international standards for disembarking rescued migrants, after an Italian ship reportedly unloaded some 100 people at a port near Tripoli.

Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud on Tuesday (31 July) said a person's life must not be threatened and that housing, food, and medical needs must be met before disembarkation can take place.

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"The Commission has consistently maintained that it does not believe these conditions are being currently met in Libya," she said, citing an international convention on maritime search and rescue.

The EU has trained over 230 Libyan coast guards to pluck people at sea and return them to Libya - a programme that has attracted criticism from charities given the country's open slave markets and notorious detention centres.

But Bertaud's comments were linked to an Italian towboat that reportedly unloaded rescued people in Libya.

"Without knowing the specific details about this operation and under which authority the ship is operating, we cannot comment on this specific case. We are in touch with the Italians to find out more," she said, when pressed.

The allegation was made on Monday (30 July) by Oscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish sea search and rescue NGO.

In a tweet, he said that the Asso 28 Italian oil rig support vessel had been instructed by the Italian coastguard to disembark 108 people in Libya.

"The Asso 28, with an Italian flag, rescued 108 people in international waters and is now deporting them to Libya, a country where human rights are not respected. No chance [for them] to get asylum or shelter," he said.

But the Italian coastguard on Tuesday said the Libyan Coast Guard had both coordinated and "managed the whole operation".

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a tweet, said disembarking migrants in Libya from the Italian-flagged ship "could represent a violation of international law."

The confusion points to a wider disarray among the EU in its efforts to better manage migration and refugees.

The commission is now trying to get coastal states around the Mediterranean to coordinate rescues in an effort to prevent others from making the dangerous journey.

On Monday in Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration convened a meeting to discuss proposals on search and rescue operations and disembarkation.

The meeting was held behind closed doors.

But according to the commission, all coastal states around the Mediterranean were represented.

"In general there was consensus among participants on the need for strengthened cooperation and coordination and a willingness to continue discussions," it said.

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Death rates of people crossing from Libya to reach Italy has spiked from 1 in 64 in the first five months to 1 in 16 in June and July alone. Yet the EU maintains their safety is a main priority.

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The European Commission says it is ready to boost spending in Morocco when it comes to stop migrant hopefuls from reaching Spain by boat. The money follows demands for help from Madrid as irregular arrival numbers spike in Spain.

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More people in Libya are being inducted into slavery as people-traffickers try to monetise their investment by selling them. A senior UN refugee agency official described it as an unintended side effect of the reduction of migrant boat departures.

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The EU is ready to offer extra support to Cyprus as the Mediterranean island faces a sharp increase in refugees arriving from Lebanon, a spokesperson for the EU executive told reporters on Thursday (4 April).

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