Reuters: New Armed Group May Be Responsible for Sudden Drop in Migrant Departures from Libya

Reuters’ article by Aidan Lewis and Steve Scherer: “An armed group is stopping migrant boats from setting off across the Mediterranean from a city west of Tripoli that has been a springboard for people smugglers, causing a sudden drop in departures over the past month, sources in the area said. … Sources in Sabratha, 70 km (45 miles) west of the capital, said the sudden drop had been caused by a new force in the seaside city, which is preventing migrants from leaving, often by locking them up. … The two Sabratha sources said the group was running a detention center for migrants who are turned back or taken from smugglers. One sent a picture of hundreds of migrants sitting in the sand in front of a high wall. … Frontex last week said ‘clashes in Sabratha’ contributed to July’s decline, also citing changeable weather and increased Libyan coastguard presence. The Sabratha sources were not aware of any clashes…..In the past, with no central authority to constrain them, smugglers have adapted and routes have shifted, as already is happening. Last week smugglers moved departures to east of Tripoli, near Al Khoms, Chris Catrambone, co-founder of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) charity, told Reuters. Three large rubber boats set out from the east, he said, while only a small boat with 26 people was found west of Tripoli. ‘The sea was like a lake last week and yet there were few boats,’ Catrambone said. Everyone on the Phoenix, a rescue vessel operated by MOAS, was taken aback because it was so unusual, he said….”  Full text here.

Statements from MSF, Save the Children, and Sea-Eye Regarding Suspension of SAR Activities in International Waters Off Libyan Coast in Response to Threats Issued by Libyan Coast Guard

Statements from Save the Children (here) and Sea-Eye (here).

MSF statement (here) – Full text: On 11 August 2017, the Libyan authorities publicly announced the establishment of a search and rescue (SAR) zone and restricted the access to humanitarian vessels into the international waters off the Libyan coasts. Immediately afterwards, the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome warned MSF about security risks associated with the threats publicly issued by the Libyan Coast Guard against humanitarian search and rescue (SAR) vessels operating in international waters.

Following these additional restrictions on independent humanitarian assistance and increasing blockade of migrants within Libya, MSF has decided to temporarily suspend the search and rescue activity of its ship, Prudence. The MSF medical support team will still assist the rescue capacity of the SOS Méditerranée-run boat Aquarius, which is currently patrolling in international waters.

“If these declarations are confirmed and the orders are implemented we see two grave consequences – there will be more deaths at sea and more people trapped in Libya,” declared Annemarie Loof, MSF’s operational manager. “If humanitarian ships are pushed out of the Mediterranean, there will be fewer ships in the area to rescue people from drowning. Those who will not drown will be intercepted and brought back to Libya, which we know is a place of lawlessness, arbitrary detention and extreme violence.” These declarations came barely a week after the announcement of the Italian Navy deployment inside Libyan waters aimed at increasing the capacity of Libyan coastguards to intercept migrant and refugees and send them back to Libya.

“The recent developments represent another worrying element of an increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations,” said Brice de le Vingne, MSF’s Director of Operations.  “European states and Libyan authorities are jointly implementing a blockade on the ability of people to seek safety. This is an unacceptable assault on people’s lives and dignity.”

MSF requests Libyan authorities to rapidly confirm that they will adhere to and respect the internationally recognised legal obligation to rescue boats in distress, and that they will allow this to take place in international and Libyan waters.  MSF further requests that Libyan authorities clarify that all boats, operated by NGOs or anyone else, will be permitted to conduct these rescue activities unhindered and unharmed and that Libyan and Italian authorities will not interfere with the legally guaranteed right to disembark people in a place of safety.

“MSF refuses to be coopted into a system that aims at all cost to block people from seeking safety,” continues de le Vingne. “We call on the EU and Italian authorities to stop implementing deadly containment strategies that trap people in a country at war with no regard for their protection and assistance needs. Safe and legal pathways for refugees and migrants are urgently needed in order to reduce unnecessary death and suffering.”

IOM report: Up to 50 Somali, Ethiopian Migrants Deliberately Drowned by Smugglers off Yemen

IOM Press Release, 9 August: “Aden – Early this morning (09/08), a human smuggler, in charge of the boat, forced more than 120 Somali and Ethiopian migrants into the pitching sea as they approached the coast of Shabwa, a Yemeni Governorate along the Arabian Sea. The migrants had been hoping to reach countries in the Gulf via war-torn Yemen. Shortly after the tragedy, staff from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, found the shallow graves of 29 migrants on a beach in Shabwa, during a routine patrol. The dead had been buried rapidly by those who survived the smuggler’s deadly actions. IOM is working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure appropriate care for the deceased migrants’ remains. … ‘The survivors told our colleagues on the beach that the smuggler pushed them to the sea, when he saw some ‘authority types’ near the coast,’ explained Laurent de Boeck, the IOM Yemen Chief of Mission. ‘They also told us that the smuggler has already returned to Somalia to continue his business and pick up more migrants to bring to Yemen on the same route. This is shocking and inhumane. The suffering of migrants on this migration route is enormous. Too many young people pay smugglers with the false hope of a better future,’ continued de Boeck. Since January 2017 to date, IOM estimates that around 55,000 migrants left the Horn of Africa to come to Yemen…”

Italian Navy Ship, Comandante Borsini, Visits Tripoli Naval Base

Libyan media reported that the Italian naval ship, Comandante Borsini, (in background of photo) just concluded a five day working visit to Libya at the Tripoli Naval Base which “saw Italian experts and technicians conducting a closeup assessment of the needs of Libya’s naval vessels….. [a Libyan naval spokesman] indicated that the maintenance that is to take place is part of activating the 2008 agreement in the part related to Naval and Coast Guard personnel.” “An Italian service vessel will arrive Tuesday in Tripoli Naval Base to kick off the service work. … [The spokesman] explained that there are no concealed agreements and no articles in the current deal that would violate Libya’s sovereignty, saying the Libyan part of the deal did not ask for any intervention or operations inside the territorial waters….”

2017-08-06_Comandante Borsini at Tripoli Harbour(2)

Comandante Borsini in background. Libyan Coastguard Patrol Boat (Pennant 654) in foreground.

2018-08-06_Comandanti Borsini at Tripoli