„To hinder migrants crossing the Mediterranean, European navies stopped rescuing them. Now commercial ships are tasked with saving lives — and returning migrants to war-torn Libya.“

Patrick Kingsley fasst die Entwicklungen der letzten Monate in einem Artikel in der NYT vom 20.03.20 zusammen. Er beruft sich dabei auf den Nivin-Report von Forensic Architecture und den entsprechenden Report des Global Legal Action Networks, mit dem Titel Privatised Migrant Abuse by Italy and Libya, sowie auf eigene Recherchen. Der Nivin-Vorfall ereignete sich im November 2018. Seither wurden mehr als 1800 Personen mit 30 Handelsschiffen nach Libyen transportiert – „The real number is likely to be higher“.

Kingsleys Artikel beginnt mit dem Vorfall vom 11. Januar, als das Versorgungsschiff Panther von der Libyschen Küstenwache aufgefordert wurde, 68 Boat People zu tetten und zurück nach Libyen zu bringen.

The Libyans could easily have alerted a nearby rescue ship run by a Spanish charity. The reason they did not goes to the core of how the European authorities have found a new way to thwart desperate African migrants trying to reach their shores from across the Mediterranean.
And some maritime lawyers think the new tactic is unlawful.

Commercial ships like the Panther must follow instructions from official forces, like the Libyan Coast Guard, which works in close cooperation with its Italian counterpart.
Humanitarian rescue ships, on the other hand, take the migrants to Europe, citing international refugee law, which forbids returning refugees to danger.

After the Panther arrived in Tripoli, Libyan soldiers boarded, forced the migrants ashore at gunpoint, and drove them to a detention camp in the besieged Libyan capital.
“We call them privatized pushbacks,” said Charles Heller, the director of Forensic Oceanography, a research group that investigates migrant rights abuses in the Mediterranean. “They occur when merchant ships are used to rescue and bring back migrants to a country in which their lives are at risk — such as Libya.”

Die EU hat unter dem Druck Salvinis die EUNAVFOR-Schiffe abgezogen und die zivilen Rettungsschiffe nach Kräften behindert. Die Libysche Küstenwache, unterstützt durch Flugzeuge von FRONTEX und durch eine im Hafen von Tripolis liegende Fregatte, die als Einsatzzentrale dient, wurde mit der SAR beauftragt.

Now Europe has a new proxy: privately-owned commercial ships. And their deployment is contested by migrant rights watchdogs.
Although a 1979 international convention on search and rescue requires merchant ships to obey orders from a country’s Coast Guard forces, the agreement also does not permit those forces to pick and choose who helps during emergencies, as Libya’s did.

“That’s a blatantly illegal policy,” said Dr. Itamar Mann, an expert on maritime law at the University of Haifa in Israel.
But commercial shipowners say that after saving migrants from drowning, their legal duty is to do as they are told by the Libyan Coast Guard, as decreed by a separate convention on search-and-rescue signed in 1979.
“This is in accordance with international law,” said John Stawpert, a representative for the International Chamber of Shipping, a global shipowners’ association.

Between 2011 and 2018, only one commercial ship returned migrants to Libya, according to research by Forensic Oceanography.

Since 2018 there have been about 30 such returns, involving roughly 1,800 migrants, in which merchant ships have either returned migrants to Libyan ports or transferred them to Libyan Coast Guard vessels, according to data collated by The New York Times and Forensic Oceanography.
The real number is likely to be higher.

Die Rolle der italienischen Fregatte in Hafen von Tripolis ist seit dem Nivin-Prozess im März bekannt. “They coordinated the rescue activities,” sagte Matteo Salvini, in einem Interview mit Times.

In one instance in November 2018, logbooks show how Italian Coast Guard officers contacted a cargo ship, the Nivin, “on behalf of” their Libyan counterparts. But the logs also reveal that the Nivin’s captain could only reach the Libyan authorities by contacting the Italian Coast Guard.
And though European navies have withdrawn from the area, their planes still direct the Libyan Coast Guard to migrant vessels, recordings published by The Guardian show.

In March last year, one such military plane ordered a merchant vessel to return a boatload of rescued migrants to Tripoli, without any intervention from the Libyan Coast Guard, according to recordings reported in The Atavist, a digital magazine.

In one of several recent phone interviews, Commodore Abdal Samad of the Libyan Coast Guard said an Italian ship docked in Tripoli, once used as a search-and-rescue control center, no longer directs Libyan Coast Guard activity. But Libyan Coast Guard crews still sometimes use the Italian ship’s equipment to communicate with merchant vessels, Commodore Abdal Samad conceded, particularly when their radios break down.

„Privatized Pushbacks: How Merchant Ships Guard Europe“

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