Rescue Report: SOS Humanity Witnesses Breaches of Law on the Mediterranean

Rescue Report 3

Berlin, 19 January 2023. The non-governmental search and rescue organisation SOS Humanity today published its third Rescue Report. It documents in detail the rescues that the crew of Humanity 1, together with the crew of Louise Michel, carried out in the period from 24.11.- 11.12.2022 in the Central Mediterranean. It also provides evidence of the illegal pull-back of approximately 50 refugees by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and puts the event in a legal context.

In 2022, a total of 24,680 fleeing women, children and men were forcibly returned to Libya – the country from which they had fled. During a rescue operation to save 103 people in distress at sea on the morning of 6 December, the crew of the Humanity 1 witnessed such a pull-back. With two vessels, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard halted the rubber boat, whereby six people ended up in the water and were rescued by the crew of Humanity 1. The refugees remaining on the boat were forced aboard the patrol boat and unlawfully returned to Libya.

Survivors aboard the Humanity 1 were also forced to witness helplessly the forcible pull-back. “We were screaming, but there was nothing we could do,” Darius (name changed) from Cameroon is quoted as saying in the Rescue Report. “At that moment, we saw that our brothers would suffer again, maybe worse than we had suffered before. We know what is happening in Libya. It’s going to be a nightmare.”

It is commonplace for refugees in the Central Mediterranean to be returned to Libya against their will – violating both human rights and international maritime law, as the Rescue Report points out. The kind of detailed, first-hand testimony provided in this case by the crew of the Humanity 1 is nevertheless rare.

Italy’s new decree and the first assignment of a distant port

Opportunities to witness these unlawful returns will become even rarer in the future. The report also describes, based on the Humanity 1’s December operation, a trend which has become the rule since the Italian government’s new decree, effective as of 2023: non-governmental rescue ships are assigned faraway ports for disembarkation. Despite stormy weather conditions and with 261 vulnerable people on board, Humanity 1 was obliged to sail for nearly two days to the Italian port of Bari, over 600 kilometers away, in December 2022. The Rescue Report explains that this practice is also not in line with the law of the sea.

In 2023, these new rules will have fatal consequences: NGO rescue vessels will be absent from the Central Mediterranean rescue region, the world’s deadliest maritime refugee route, for at least several days at a time. Refugees in distress will be left at the mercy of the sea – or of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which forces them back into the cycle of abuse and repeated attempts to escape. Fatime (name changed), 20, who was rescued by Humanity 1 in December, reports: “The first time we tried to escape, the Libyans came. They took our money and shot at the boat, so we started to capsize. I lost my two brothers in the sea, they both drowned. After that they [the Libyans] took me and put me in prison.”

SOS Humanity’s full Rescue Report can be found here.

 

For questions, statements or interviews, please contact:
Press Officer Petra Krischok, press@sos-humanity.org, +49 (0)176 – 552 506 54

Pictures and videos of the search and rescue operations in 2022 can be found
under this link

 

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