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More Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

Italy and EU Ignore Lessons from Crotone Shipwreck Tragedy

A piece of the boat and a piece of baby clothing from the deadly migrant shipwreck in Steccato di Cutro near Crotone, Italy, February 28, 2023. © 2023 Remo Casilli/Reuters

Thirty more people have recently died in the Mediterranean because of Europe’s cruel migration policies at sea. The tragedy comes only two weeks after Italian authorities failed to come to the rescue of a boat in distress 150 meters from the Italian coast near Crotone. Over 81 people, including 33 children, drowned as a result.

On March 11, Italian, Maltese, and Libyan authorities were alerted by the emergency hotline Alarm Phone to the location of 47 people in distress in a wooden boat adrift in dangerous weather conditions in international waters.

At the time the boat was within the vast Libyan Search and Rescue Area, the establishment of which Italy and the EU had pushed for in an effort to evade their duties under international law to rescue migrants in distress and disembark them in a place of safety. Instead, the area has facilitated their interception by the abusive Libyan coastguard and return to Libya, where they face gross and systematic human rights violations.

Under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, the Libyan authorities are responsible for coordinating rescue in that area, but if unable to do so the nearest coastal states considered to be a safe destination (in this case Italy and Malta) also have a duty to intervene.

For 27 hours, the Italian authorities not only refused to intervene but also instructed nearby vessels not to do so either and to liaise with the Libyan authorities. Despite having received patrol boats and hundreds of millions of euros from Italy and the EU, the abusive Libyan coastguard failed to come to the rescue. Only 17 people survived when the boat eventually capsized.

This is only the latest tragedy caused by Italy’s and the EU’s intentional breaches of their duties under international law, the criminalization and obstruction of humanitarian rescue ships, and an extensive cooperation with Libyan authorities to intercept and return migrants and refugees to Libya.

Until Italy and other EU member states and institutions stop assisting the Libyan authorities in their abusive actions, allow humanitarian rescue ships to actually conduct rescues, revoke the Libyan Search and Rescue area, and launch a state-led search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean, they will share responsibility for more deaths at sea.

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