EU accused of abandoning rescue of migrants in the central Mediterranean to Libya

April 4th 2019

The decision, taken on March 29, by the Council of the European Union (EU) to deprive naval assets of the European surveillance mission (Operation Sophia) in the central Mediterranean has been strongly criticized by various human rights organizations. This is particularly the case of the Council of Europe, or non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, MSF, or Euromed Rights.

Euromed Rights recalls that Operation Sophia , launched by the EU in June 2015 after the disaster in which 700 migrant people drowned off Libya, was aimed primarily at "dismantling the economic model of smugglers and traffickers" by intercepting boats carrying migrants and refugees people to Europe. Although research, assistance and rescuing shipwrecked people are not explicitly part of Sophia’s mandate mission, the EU was able to help save nearly 45,000 people during the period when its buildings were present in the central Mediterranean. Every ship is required by international maritime law to save every person whose life is at risk at sea. And according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) analysis, the central Mediterranean is the most dangerous migration corridor in the world.

EuroMed Rights denounces the fact that "by deciding to suspend the deployment of naval assets and, at the same time, equip Libya with boats for its coastguard (as recently proposed by France and already made by Italy) European governments are, in fact, abandoning all responsibility for rescuing Libyans. EuroMed Rights urges European governments "to take the necessary steps to respect their collective commitment to defending and respecting human rights.» The network in particular demands," that a European naval rescue force be maintained in the Mediterranean" and considers that "the EU must actively support the activities of the NGOs and the intervention of the ships they charter, instead of putting obstacles and to criminalize their action”.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic regretted the decision of the European Council because it will ".further increases the risk that EU member states, directly or indirectly, contribute to the return of migrants and asylum seekers to Libya, where it is well-documented that there are victims of serious violations of human rights."