On the 18th of October 2019, an overcrowded boat in distress, carrying approximately 50 people, contacted the Alarm Phone hotline. Having fled Libya, the people were located in the Maltese Search and Rescue Zone (SAR) near the Italian island of Lampedusa when they called for help.
Following the call, the Alarm Phone informed the Maltese Search and Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) via email and received acknowledgement of its receipt. However, “after we tried to call the Maltese authorities throughout the afternoon and the early evening to provide them with updated GPS positions which were received from the boat in distress, they could not be reached” (Britta Rabe, Alarm Phone). When the RCC Malta was finally reached at 21.30h CEST – seven hours after the initial distress call – they informed the Alarm Phone that the so-called Libyan coastguard had intercepted the boat in the Maltese SAR zone. Later on, it became clear that Maltese authorities were monitoring the boat in distress from the air without at any time aiming to carry out a rescue operation themselves. Instead, “they waited for the so-called Libyan coastguards to enter the Maltese SAR zone, to intercept the group of migrants in distress, and to return them to the place they had escaped from – Libya” (Britta Rabe, Alarm Phone). While the closest port to the rescue location was Lampedusa (41nm), the people were brought back and disembarked in the Libyan capital Tripoli (110nm). After their arrival on the Libyan coast, they were transported to the Triq al Sikka detention centre. Numerous reports refer to the inhumane conditions of the centre and emphasize the extensive human rights violations on site. These human rights violations, which are closely interlinked with the return of migrants to Libya, cannot be tolerated and must have legal consequences.
The Association for Juridical Studies on Migration (ASGI) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) filed a complaint against Italy, Malta and Libya with the UN Human Rights Committee. The complaint is filed on behalf of two individuals whose right to flee Libya was violated by the interception and pull-back carried out by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard under the responsibility of Italian and Maltese authorities.
Jointly, Alarm Phone, Mediterranea – Saving Humans, and Sea-Watch e.V. support this initiative of ASGI and CIHRS. The three organizations point out that, to this day, there have been several cases of this kind and therefore legal consequences must follow immediately. In fact, the practice of non-intervention by the Maltese authorities has been observed with increasing frequency even when the distress case is reported in the Maltese SAR area. As repeatedly denounced by the three organizations, the surveillance of the Mediterranean border by European air assets plays an important role in the current dynamic in the Mediterranean. The air surveillance enables the so-called Libyan authorities to intervene and return people to Libya, a place from which they fled. “Despite being aware of the ongoing conflict and the wrongful practices of arbitrary detention of migrants in Libya, European countries continue to delegate search and rescue operations to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in violation of international law of the sea and human rights law” says Lucia Gennari (Mediterranea – Saving Humans). This cooperation leads to constant violations of the rights of migrants in the Central Mediterranean and is under no circumstances acceptable. “The European Union turns a blind eye towards the evidence we are collecting everyday in our work. It is time for Europe to be held accountable for its unlawful practices in the Mediterranean” says Bérénice Gaudin (Sea-Watch e.V.).
A joint press conference will be held on July 28th, 2020 at 15:30 CEST