Human rights organisation Amnesty International has released a damning report in which it brands all European Union (EU) nations of being "complicit" in the avoidable deaths of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean.
The number of people dying while trying to cross the sea from Africa to Europe has surged this year — with more than 700 people losing their lives in June and July alone, according to the report. It’s an increase from 597 people in the same period in 2017.
On June 19 and 20, approximately 220 people drowned in three separate incidents off the coast of Libya. And in so far in 2018, a total of 1,111 people were reported dead or missing along the central Mediterranean route, it added.
And according to Amnesty’s report, entitled "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," the whole of the EU is responsible.
“Responsibility for the mounting death toll falls squarely on European governments who are more concerned with keeping people out than they are with saving lives,” said Matteo de Bellis, researcher on asylum and migration at Amnesty International.
“European governments are colluding with the Libyan authorities to contain refugees and migrants in Libya, despite the horrific abuses they face at the hands of the Libyan coast guard and in detention centres in Libya,” he added.
Amnesty UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, added: “The UK is as complicit as any other European government in the EU policy that now sustains a cycle of human rights abuse on a huge scale while humanitarian effort to save lives is deliberately undermined and obstructed.”
“The truly dreadful outcomes for many thousands of children, women, and men include exploitation, torture, and far greater loss of life at sea,” he added.
The treatment of refugees and migrants provoked international uproar — and protests across Europe and Africa — in November 2017, when footage was released by CNN that appeared to show African migrants being auctioned off as slaves.
But Amnesty’s latest report warned that refugees and migrants are still facing arbitrary detention, abuse, violence, torture, and other atrocities while EU policy is trapping them in Libya.
"European governments are more concerned with keeping people out than they are with saving lives" https://t.co/v8DxAzH1j1— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) August 8, 2018
People are arriving “severely” dehydrated and malnourished, it said, “having endured months of food deprivation and other abuses in captivity in Libya before departing on a perilous journey.”
“This testifies to the extremely harsh conditions and inhumane treatment refugees and migrants continue to ensure in Libya, often constituting the very reason why people attempt to flee the country,” added the report.
Nevertheless, the report said, the EU is supporting the Libyan coast guard in preventing departures, and intercepting refugees and migrants making the crossing to send them back to Libya.
“As such, they have become complicit in the human rights violations refugees and migrants are almost certain to face once back in Libya,” said the report.
This year has so far seen the lowest number of new arrivals to Italy of the last five years. Some 18,645 people had reached Italy by the end of July — a drop of about 80% compared to the same period in 2017 and 2016.
But, between June and July, the death rate among those attempting the crossing from Libya surged to 1 in 16 people — four times higher than the rate recorded in the first five months of the year, which was 1 in 64.
Far greater numbers of people are also being held in Libyan detention centres, with the number rising from 4,400 in March to more than 10,000 by the end of July.
Another reason for the rise in deaths in the Mediterranean is the tide of mistreatment directed at the NGOs which, in 2017 and until May 2018, had carried out about 40% of rescues.
Now, according to Amnesty, these NGOs “instead of being applauded … face slander, intimidation, and court cases.”
In recent months, Italy’s withdrawal from its “leading role” in coordinating rescues at sea, and its new policy of refusing disembarkation to vessels carrying rescued people, has “rendered the search and reduce system unreliable, unpredictable, and punitive.”
The “frail and exhausted” rescued people — including pregnant women, torture survivors, unaccompanied minors, people traumatised by shipwrecks and other experiences, and injured people — are instead left stranded at sea for days, as each disembarkation is individually negotiated, said the report.
Amnesty is now calling on EU member states to “act urgently” to prevent yet more avoidable deaths, by encouraging and support those ships undertaking search and rescue operations, and allowing them to disembark quickly at a place of safety.
It also urged the EU to reform the Dublin system by “overhauling the rationale which assigns responsibility to the state of first entry and replacing it with a mandatory distribution mechanism of asylum-seekers.”
And it warned that the EU must “reset” cooperation with Libya to focus on the “priority of protecting the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants in the country” and make sure that people aren’t being returned to Libya where they face the “real risk of torture and ill-treatment.”