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Over 1,100 people have died on sea routes to Europe so far this year, double the numbers of this time last year

As IOM reiterates call for EU states to respect international refugee laws, three people die while Malta delays rescue

MORE people have died on maritime migration routes into Europe in the first six months of this year than in the same period of 2020, according to research by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

At least 1,146 people have drowned so far this year, which represents “a substantial increase compared to the fatalities recorded in the same period in 2020 (513) and 2019 (674),” says the IOM report published on Tuesday.

The vast majority of the deaths (896) occurred in the Mediterranean Sea, while at least 250 people died in the Atlantic Ocean while trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands and six others during attempts to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.

Many more deaths are likely to have gone unrecorded, the report says, adding that “every one of these people has left behind a family who may never know what has happened to their lost loved ones.”

The IOM also found that over 15,300 people were pushed back to war-torn Libya between January to June, a figure almost three times the total for the same period of last year (5,476).

“This is particularly worrying, given that migrants who are intercepted at sea and returned to Libya are subjected to arbitrary detention, extortion, disappearance and torture,” the report says.

A small number of NGOs and activist groups have been the only actors regularly supporting refugees and carrying out search-and-rescue (SAR) operations in the central Mediterranean since the European Union withdrew its ships from the area in 2019.

But, the report warns, these civilian rescuers have “continued to face significant obstacles to their operations, with the majority of their boats blocked at European ports due to administrative seizures and ongoing criminal and administrative proceedings against crew members.”

“This led to limited deployment – if any, at all – of civilian SAR ships during the first half of 2021. Most of the time, only one boat was present at sea, while nine were blocked in ports pending legal proceedings (as of June 2021).”

IOM director general Antonio Vitorino once again reiterated the organisation’s call on European states to uphold their obligations under international law to save lives at sea.

“Increasing SAR efforts, establishing predictable disembarkation mechanisms and ensuring access to safe and legal migration pathways are key steps towards achieving this goal,” Mr Vitorino said.

Another example of a European state failing to, as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea puts it, “to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress” occurred in Malta‘s SAR zone on Tuesday leading to the deaths of three people.

This morning around 4.30am local time, an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) patrol boat brought a wooden boat to shore carrying 81 people, three of them dead.

About 24 hours earlier, however, the activist network Alarm Phone alerted the Maltese authorities to the distress case. But no rescue was launched.

Later that morning, the Moonbird, a reconnaissance plane operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, found the boat and monitored the situation from the skies.

“The merchant vessel Chembulk Barcelona is on the way to the case,” Sea-Watch posted on social media yesterday morning.

“It is their duty to render immediate assistance, not to just stand by. Malta must ensure a swift rescue.”

The Moonbird crew later spotted two other ships — one of them a Turkish warship — in the refugee’s vicinity but, Sea-Watch said, Malta had ordered them to standby.

The Turkish warship photographed by Sea-Watch’s Moonbird crew on Tuesday close to the 81 refugee’s position

The Turkish ship, Sea-Watch said, “only sent its helicopter to monitor the scene. Such a frigate is perfectly equipped for rescue operations. There is no excuse not to rescue and to bring the people to a place of safety.”

The exact circumstances of the three deaths are not yet known, but Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told The Civil Fleet today that the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) was likely to have been responsible.

“Three people have died probably because Malta delayed its rescue efforts. Malta likely hoped the so-called Libyan Coastguard would pull them back in the meantime.

“This criminal behaviour of the Maltese RCC has to have consequences. However, it most likely won’t as these three people have the wrong skin colour and Europe is keeping silent.

“Everyone knows that Malta is just the ugly bouncer for their own deadly policies. These people did not die in by accident. They died because of institutional racism.”

The top image, taken by Sea-Watch’s Moonbird’s crew, shows the 81 people in Malta’s SAR zone on Tuesday. When the Maltese finally rescued them early this morning, three of them were dead

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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