For more respect towards the human rights of migrants in Maghreb-EU cooperation

Following the increasing number of shipwrecks off the coast of Tunisia and the dangerous maneuvers of the Tunisian and Libyan coast guards, the EU must stop supporting their practices.  


In recent weeks we have seen an increasing number of deaths and disappearances off the Tunisian coast. At least 34 sub-Saharan migrants were reported missing on Friday 24 March after their boat sank. This is the fifth sinking in two days, bringing the total number of missing migrants to 67. In addition, 29 bodies of migrants were discovered after three boats sank off the coast of East-Central Tunisia on Sunday 26 March.


NGO Alarm Phone reports violence against people in distress and the abandonment of some at sea by the Tunisian coast guard. Several survivors denounced the seizure of boat engines in the middle of the sea, causing shipwrecks.

On 25 March 2023, while heading towards a boat in distress carrying about 80 people on board, the team on the Ocean Viking, a ship of the NGO SOS Méditerranée, were threatened with firearms by the Libyan coast guard For the second time this year, SOS Méditerranée denounces the endangerment of people in distress and the teams coming to their rescue.


These two shipwrecks and the practices of the Tunisian and Libyan coast guards raise serious questions about the responsibility of the EU member states that support them financially.


In the meantime, Italy continues its crackdown on search and rescue NGOs at sea. On March 26, the ship Louise Michel was arrested in the port of Lampedusa by the Italian authorities because, while on its way to the port, it rescued other boats in distress, thus violating a new decree on immigration.


In a decree signed on 17 March, Italy has confirmed Tunisia’s inclusion in the list of so-called “safe” countries of origin, a very dangerous concept that goes against the spirit of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees by suggesting to analyse individually any request for international protection.


The visit in Tunisia on 27 March of European Commissioner for the Economy, Mr Paolo Gentiloni, to discuss about possible reforms to avoid a collapse of the local economy with Tunisian President Saïed is an opportunity to stress the need for more respect of migrant people.


EuroMed Rights asks that such respect be applied in all forms of cooperation with Tunisia and Maghreb countries, notably through :

  • The cessation of non-assistant at sea,
  • The increase of search and rescue operations,
  • The the strengthening of effective legal channels, as a solution to avoid further loss of life.