EU wants migrant rescue ships to skip Libyan seas
INCREASING numbers of desperate African refugees, specifically those from sub-Saharan Africa, are continuing to drown as ruthless human traffickers transport them in unseaworthy boats from Libya to Europe.
However, despite their miserable ordeal, the EU is considering barring NGO ships from entering Libyan waters to rescue them, according to a leaked document.
According to a Wednesday report, released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the new law would technically prevent NGO ships from entering Libyan waters without the specific permission of the Libyan authorities.
“Thousands more refugees and migrants could be at risk of dying at sea if a flawed code of conduct for non-governmental groups conducting search and rescue in the central Mediterranean is put into practice,” Amnesty International and HRW said after reviewing a leaked draft of the document.
The Libyan coastguard has been accused of failing to rescue migrants on a number of occasions in addition to intimidating them by shooting above the heads of migrants in rescue boats to scare them off.
Other reports accuse the coastguard of colluding with human traffickers.
The measures the EU is considering taking include banning the NGO ships from using lights to signal their location to vessels at imminent risk of sinking. The boats would also be forced to return to their port of origin and the refugees forced to disembark. At present the NGO rescue vessels tend to transfer rescued migrants to other vessels so the new measures would remove the rescuers from migrant areas for long periods.
Another proposal would involve barring the rescue vessels from landing migrants in Italian ports – an idea the Italian government has been mooting in recent weeks, the Libya Herald reported.
“Perversely, the proposed code of conduct for NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean could put lives at risk,” said Iverna McGowan, director of the Amnesty International, European Institutions Office.
“NGOs are out there rescuing people because the EU is not,” added Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
“Given the scale of tragedies at sea and the horrific abuses migrants and asylum seekers face in Libya, the EU should work with Italy to enhance robust search and rescue,” she added.
Both groups said the new code of conduct could breach rules that captains of vessels must adhere to at sea. Any code should focus on making rescue operations easier and better, they said.
The Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament is due to hold an “exchange of views on Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean” between MEPs, the Italian coastguard, the EU border management agency FRONTEX, and non-governmental organisations.