In the Central Mediterranean, a “hot” summer for migrants and refugees’ rights violations
The summer saw no reduction in the number of migrants who tried to reach Europe. In the absence of legal pathways to Europe and despite the health crisis, many continued to risk their lives by taking to the sea.
Of the 17,000 who reached the Italian coasts since January 2020, 7,000 were Tunisians driven by a fragile political and socio-economic situation made even more precarious by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite such incertitude, the Italian and European response was mainly security-based, supporting border control and resuming deportation flights at a rhythm of two per week.
In Libya, the fragile geopolitical situation has been worsened by the interference, in the conflict, of “foreign actors”. This led to an increase in deaths and human rights violations for Libyans as well for migrants and refugees trying to flee Libya. In the last eight months, the “Libyan Coast Guard” (trained and equipped by Italy and Malta) has illegally pushed back to Tripoli around 7,000 migrants who were trying to escape the country. Since 2015, 63,000 in total have been pushed back to Libya.
At sea, five shipwrecks caused around 120 deaths and 160 people missing (the latest tragedy occurring on September the 15th), with more and more bodies found on Libyan shores. These are to be added to the dozens who lost their lives on the route to the Canaries in a tragic summer for migrants and refugees.
Italy provided four quarantine boats/floating hotspots to transfer migrants onto land. But these effectively increase the risk of infection. The Lampedusa hotspot for instance has been overcrowded for weeks with over 1,300 people (for a hotspot with a maximum capacity of 200 people). Sanitary conditions are critical.
The EU and its Member States are continuing to turn a blind eye. Many of them are violating the principle of non-refoulement as well as their search and rescue obligations. Greece continues to push back dozens of people to Turkey at the maritime and land borders, Croatia behaves in the same way by pushing back migrants to the Balkan route. Once again, states disregard the urgent need for a human rights-based approach to migration that would ensure systematic compliance with international and EU law.