Many desperate migrants wait in Libya to board any craft
LIBE calls for a robust EU solution for preventing people from drowning at sea
Maria Koleva, Brussels
14 July, 2017
Photo: © European Parliament
Italy remains the main arrival point to the EU for migrants, with over 85,000 people having reached its shores in the first 6 months of this year.
Search-and-rescue operations and how different actors operating in the Mediterranean Sea interact, fighting human smugglers, and the cooperation with Libyan authorities were the main topics of the hearing conducted on 12 July by the EP Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE). Among the speakers were senior officers of the Italian Coast Guard, managers of Frontex, NGOs, representatives of Doctors without Borders and Human Rights Watch.
Since the Balkan route was closed and the EU-Turkey deal signed, Italian shores remain the main arrival point to the EU for migrants, with over 85,000 people having crossed the Mediterranean Sea in the first six months of this year. It is 10% more compared to the same period last year. As UNHCR sources show, 2,253 migrants have lost their lives on the way to Italy, many of them using namely the Central Mediterranean route. As the chair of the LIBE committee Claude Moraes asserted, “with this hearing we will refocus our efforts on this important subject as for the Parliament saving lives is first priority.”
Italy, which is exposed to unprecedented migratory pressure, has recently asked the EU and the member countries for help and solidarity in tackling the inrush. The Italian government even said it may ban non-Italian NGO rescue ships from entering the country's ports. In response, the Commission invited the Italian authorities to draft a code of conduct for NGOs dealing with search-and-rescue actions.
Rome was set to reveal any time soon an 11-point code of conduct to restrict NGO rescues. Those that fail to comply will be banned from disembarking rescued people at Italian ports, according to a draft copy. Aside from requiring NGOs to reveal all sources of financing for their rescue efforts, the code imposes an absolute ban on the entry of NGOs into Libyan waters. Sea rescues will instead be carried out by the Libyan coast guard, with those plucked from the waters likely ending up in a Libyan detention centre.
Italian Coast Guard Captain Sandro Gallinelli said that the 11,000 staff of the service is carrying out search-and-rescue operations over some 500,000 sq km. Search-and-rescue is a massive undertaking, and it is necessary first to recognise that Libya is a very important factor in this, he opined. Many migrants are still in Libya and are desperate to leave and they will board any craft, however dangerous or risky the enterprise seems, Captain Gallinelli warned, conceding that human trafficking is a massive challenge. For his part, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri clarified that search and rescue has always been a big part of the agency's maritime operation. It is our duty to pursue people smugglers and collect any evidence that could be used in support of criminal investigation and share it with national authorities, Europol and Eurojust, he noted.
The cooperation with Libya was criticised by some lawmakers, who underlined the political instability in the country and the unreliability of its authorities. They urged that it increases the risk of abuse and violence faced by migrants who are returned there. MEPs also emphasised the need for a longer-term solution.