Evidence obtained by the Guardian exposes a coordinated and unlawful EU assault on the rights of desperate people trying to cross the Mediterranean
by Daniel Howden, Apostolis Fotiadis and Zach Campbell
As night fell on 26 March 2019, two small boats made their way north across the Mediterranean. The rubber crafts were flimsy; it would be nearly impossible for those onboard to make it to Europe without help. From the north, a twin-propeller aeroplane from the European Union naval force approached. From the south, the coastguard from the country they had just fled, Libya, was coming.
The aircraft arrived first but there would be no rescue from Europe. Instead the flight, callsign Seagull 75, radioed the Libyans telling them where to find the boats. But Libya’s would-be interceptors would need more than just the coordinates. “OK sir, my radar is not good, is not good, if you stay [over the boat] I will follow you,” said the coastguard, according to recordings of VHF marine radio picked up by a nearby ship.
Seagull 75 circled overhead. The flight crew was part of Operation Sophia, an EU naval mission that has patrolled the south-central Mediterranean since 2015. After participating in thousands of rescues in its first four years, Sophia withdrew its sea vessels from March 2019, leaving only aircraft in the rescue zone. It came to be known as the naval mission without any ships.
“We have approximately five minutes left on station,” the crew on Seagull 75 told the Libyans. “We will go overhead the vessel, the rubber boat, and we will light our landing lights.” The Sophia flight and the Libyan coastguard ship were searching for each other in the dark. “We don’t have your visual, keep an eye out for a light,” said the flight crew. The Libyans asked for more information. “Stand by, I’m just updating your position. Stand by,” the flight crew replied.
“Turn left about 10 degrees. He is approximately three nautical miles off your nose,” replied Operation Sophia after a minute. The flight was out of fuel and about to head back to base. “Libyan national coastguard, we will contact you through FHQ, over,” said the flight crew, referring to the tactical base from which Operation Sophia is managed.
The confusion at sea that night was not an isolated incident but an illustration of the painstaking lengths to which Europe has gone to ensure migrants do not reach the continent. While the level of violence at Greece’s border with Turkey has shocked many Europeans, Europe’s retreat from refugee rights did not begin last week. Greece’s decision to seal its borders and deny access to asylum is only the most visible escalation of an assault on people’s right to seek protection.
The groundwork for this was laid in the central Mediterranean, where the EU and Italy created a proxy force to do what they could not do themselves without openly violating international laws: intercept unwanted migrants and return them to Libya. […]
Der Guardian dokumentiert in seinem Report ein Schreiben des Frontex-Chefs Leggeri und die Antwort der EU Kommission:
“Direct exchanges of operational information with the MRCC [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] Libya about search and rescue cases may trigger interventions of the Libyan coastguard,” wrote Leggeri. “The development of a Libyan coastguard is funded as you know by the European Union. Nevertheless, the commission and in general institutions may face questions of a political nature as a consequence of the SAR-related operational exchanges of information.”
Couched in official jargon, Europe’s top border official appeared to be asking the EU’s ranking migration official whether they were crossing the line.
The response from Michou a month later sought to reassure him that, legally, they were in the clear. Still, she noted: “[Many] of the recent sightings of migrants in the Libyan SRR [rescue zone] have been provided by aerial assets of [Operation Sophia] and were notified directly to the Libyan RCC responsible for its own region.”