Last Updated: 30.11.16
According to the UNHCR, this year alone, over 170.000 people fled from Libya to Italy across the Mediterranean Sea. By the end of November 2016 more people had fled to Italy than in the whole of 2015 (153.842 registered refugees). Thus far, October 2016 was the busiest month with almost 30.000 refugees being registered in Italy.
Winter on the Mediterranean – the crossing becomes even more dangerous
During the winter months of 2015/16 (December – February) almost 19.000 people survived the journey and reached the Italian coast. In December 2015 alone, 9.500 lives could be saved. Thus we cannot expect that fewer people will risk the dangerous passage this winter. At the same time, many of the civil rescue ships currently operating in the Mediterranean are not equipped to operate in winter, or have to return to shore for important repairs. Therefore, the AQUARIUS will be the only civil rescue ship able to continue to save lives during the coming winter months. Together with the Italian coast guard this will be the only hope for refugees trying to reach Europe by sea – in spite of the bad weather conditions.
4.690 deaths in the Mediterranean Sea – more than ever before
According to the Missing Migration Project (http://missingmigrants.iom.int/mediterranean) nearly 5.000 people have lost their lives attempting the Mediterranean passage – more than ever before. Statistically, 1 in 47 people will not survive; making the central Mediterranean route is the deadliest flight route in the world.
Most of the people risking the deadly passage are from African countries including Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Somalia, Mali and Senegal. They are forced to leave their homes on grounds of persecution, oppression or lack of prospect. Upon finally reaching Libya, many have already survived a long and dangerous journey. However, instead of highly anticipated work opportunities people face a cruel regime of structural violence and exploitation.
Libya – a dangerous transit country
Despite agreeing on a unity government in December 2015, the situation in Libya continues to be catastrophic. The new regime under Prime Minister Al-Sarradsch is facing resistance especially from the eastern part of the country, where a government supported by the West is in control. Al-Sarradsch, who was put into office by the UN, is not accepted in many areas of the country, thus struggling for recognition. At the same time there are many smaller armed groups with ever-changing allegiances, whose activities contribute to the continuing turmoil and whose activities make it harder to collectively take action against IS.
Since the end of October the Libyan coast guard is being trained within the mandate of the EU military intervention EUNAVFOR Med. Their goal is complete patrol and monitoring along the Libyan coast and to combat human trafficking (https://www.proasyl.de/news/eu-training-fuer-libysche-kuestenwache-menschenrechte-ueber-bord/). A decline in refugee numbers from Libya will be expected starting in spring 2017, upon completion of the training.
This line of action has been heavily criticised by human rights and pro-refugee organisations. They refer, amongst others, to a frightful incident in October, when the violent intervention of the Libyan coast guard during a rescue operation by SeaWatch led to the death of at least 25 refugees. The coast guard is currently rejecting all accusations, whilst SeaWatch has pressed charges.