Please find here our new Central Med analysis, covering the past six months, 1 January to 30 June 2020. Via the links you can find the full report, below the introduction.
Also in the Central Mediterranean Sea: Black Lives Matter!
Over the past six months, January to June 2020, the Central Mediterranean Sea has continued to be a zone of violence, human rights abuses, disappearances and deaths, as well as a stage of struggles for freedom of movement, both by people fleeing Libya and by the Civil Fleet. The ongoing conflicts in Libya and attempts to further close European harbours to migrants have exacerbated the already dire conditions of people who are trying to escape torture camps and to reach Europe. Most recently, using the excuse of having to ‘protect’ from the Covid-19 virus, European authorities have reinforced its repressive border control industry through EU air surveillance, by engaging merchant vessels or ghost fleets in illegal push-backs, and by providing money and resources to strengthen the illegal operations of the so-called Libyan coastguards. Despite European attempts to militarise external borders, to deter people’s movement and to facilitate the capture and detention of those crossing the sea, thousands of people have bravely managed to evade capture and to reach Europe, either autonomously or through the support of the Civil Fleet.
In 2020, so far, the Alarm Phone has supported 77 boats in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea, carrying about 4,500 people. This does not include dozens of boats that called us but where we were unable to establish sufficient contact to retrieve crucial information, such as GPS positions. About 3,350 people who had reached out to us reached Europe, mostly due to the incessant efforts of the Civil Fleet: Sea Watch 3, Moonbird, Open Arms, Mare Jonio, Aita Mari and Ocean Viking. Besides rescues, people have reached European shores also independently, often coming from Tunisia.
Unfortunately, over 1,100 of the people who called us were intercepted by the so-called Libyan coastguards and by merchant or private vessels and forced back to Libya. We were also alerted by many hundreds of others in distress to whom contact broke down before we could gain crucial information. In these instances, we often could not find out what happened to them afterwards. We also learned of several shipwrecks and tragedies at sea where hundreds of people were confirmed dead or went missing. Although often presented as inevitable accidents, this loss of life could have been prevented, had it not been for efforts to deter people from reaching Europe, no matter the costs.
Over recent months, the EU has further improved its cynical ways of enforcing borders through modes of selective visibility and presence. While de facto withdrawing assets at sea in order to avoid rescue operations, EU aerial assets are regularly deployed to surveille migrant boats from the sky. In the contested Libyan Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, EU aerial assets have facilitated the interception and capture of thousands of migrants back to the Libyan warzone. Systematic violations of SAR obligations and human rights occur also within EU SAR zones, where European aerial assets have watched people drown and die of hunger and thirst from above, instead of organising their rescue. Thus while extensively monitoring the Mediterranean, Europe has tried to invisibilise the dramatic effects of its letting-die policies, actively turning the Mediterranean into a black hole where Black Lives on the move are systematically left to die, illegally pushed back, or kept at sea for days without assistance.
It is only thanks to survivors who have bravely chosen to speak up and testify, as well as to the counter-surveillance activities of the Civil Fleet, that we have gained glimpses into the crimes that EU institutions and member states perpetrate at Europe’s external borders. Their testimonies from detention, video footage survivors shared with us, and people’s attempts to reconstruct what happened to their missing loved ones, exposed otherwise unimaginable human rights violations perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Malta and by Libyan authorities with the support and complicity of Italian and European authorities. Once more, they have proven that Italy’s and Malta’s violent and deadly practices of non-assistance or delays, sabotage and attacks at sea, push-backs and capture of people fleeing war and torture, are by no means exceptional but strategic and systematic in the Central Mediterranean Sea.
As this analysis will show in detail, these practices escalated in particular over the Easter weekend, shortly after Malta and Italy had declared their harbours ‘closed’ for migrants in distress, grotesquely using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to let people die at sea, needlessly suffer or be detained on floating prisons outside territorial waters. The absence of EU assets and NGO rescuers did not prevent people from trying to escape the Libyan warzone. Many of them were deliberately left adrift in the Maltese SAR zone for days or illegally pushed back to Libya by Malta’s ghost fleet. In what became known as the ‘Easter tragedy’, twelve people were killed by the European border regime.