Geneva - Libyan authorities must launch a thorough investigation into the recurring incidences of migrants and asylum seekers drowning in boats off the country’s coast, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
At least 15 bodies—the majority of them severely burnt—were recently recovered by Red Crescent volunteers, both onboard and near a boat off the western Libyan coastal city of Sabratha; the bodies were then transported to a nearby hospital for necessary legal procedures. According to preliminary information obtained by Euro-Med Monitor’s team, the bodies were those of migrants and asylum seekers who died as a result of a dispute between local smugglers.
Migrants and asylum seekers are frequent victims of smugglers’ exploitation and practices that amount to human trafficking, due to the absence of strict and practical measures from local security authorities to pursue traffickers and protect victims, as well as EU states’ continued complication of procedures for regular and safe immigration and asylum seeking.
Victoria Ceretti, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: “All of these drownings and human trafficking gangs’ exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people’s crises were insufficient to persuade EU countries to adopt less restrictive policies toward migrants and asylum seekers fleeing conflict areas and humanitarian crises.
“It is time for EU countries to review their policies on irregular immigration and asylum, which are resulting in the death of thousands of lives each year, by updating the procedures for immigration and asylum application”, Ceretti added.
Asylum seekers and migrants attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea face numerous dangers in Libya. Last August, Libyan authorities detained more than 70 migrants and asylum seekers and transferred them to a shelter in preparation for deportation to their home countries, despite the security risks that many of them faced. Furthermore, Euro-Med Monitor reported last April that six bodies were recovered and 29 other migrants went missing after a wooden boat capsized near Sabratha.
Libya is an important transit point for tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who pass through the country each year on their way to reach Europe via Italy’s coasts, which are located about 300 kilometres away. According to previous reports and data provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the majority of these migrants are from Sub-Saharan African countries and are frequently victims of human trafficking trying to escape their circumstances.
Libyan authorities must launch a thorough investigation into what happened on the migrant boat this month in order to hold those responsible accountable, and impose strict measures to ensure the safety of asylum seekers and migrants. The risks these individuals face—such as blackmailing by human traffickers and smugglers—must be reduced, especially given the degree of danger and the deaths of hundreds of people each year.
Euro-Med Monitor calls for the improvement of reception mechanisms and conditions, the end of arbitrarily rejecting asylum applications, and actively working to integrate migrants and refugees into their new societies, as well as developing programmes in their countries of origin that improve opportunities for young people.
European Union destination countries must stop criminalising and prosecuting unofficial rescue efforts, and instead work to activate constant, official rescue missions that will ensure a rapid response to drowning accidents or boat malfunctions, potentially reducing the escalating number of victims in the Mediterranean.