Oxfam and 53 other organizations Friday accused EU governments of being complicit in the “tragedy” of migrants crossing from Libya to Italy, saying more than 5,300 people had died in the Mediterranean in the past two years. In an open letter, the NGOs called on European governments to support rescue operations and stop sending migrants back to Libya, where the organizations said they face abuse.
With the support of the EU, Italy and Libya in February 2017 signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy, with Rome and the EU to provide support for Libyan coastguards, while Tripoli would prevent people leaving its shores for Europe.
But in two years, “more than 5,300 women, men and children perished in the Mediterranean,” the NGOs said in their open letter.
According to the groups, EU governments have become “complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes” because people are in more danger at sea and are being returned to Libya.
The NGOs highlighted the plight of migrants detained in Libya.
“Many are mistreated before being sold to armed groups or as slaves,” Jon Cerezo, humanitarian campaign head at Oxfam France, said in a statement from the NGO.
The humanitarian organizations called on EU governments to “stop sending people rescued at sea back to Libya.”
They also said these governments should support “search and rescue operations and ensure that people rescued at sea can arrive safely and without delay to Europe.”
Meanwhile, Italy’s coastguard Friday blocked the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship in the port of Catania citing safety and environmental concerns, delaying the vessel’s plans to return to patrolling the Libyan coastline.
After a long standoff with the Italian government, Thursday the Dutch-flagged vessel, run by a German charity, was allowed to disembark 47 migrants it had rescued at sea on Jan. 19 in the Sicilian port.
Coastguard inspectors said until the “irregularities … are resolved, the vessel cannot leave the Catania port.”
Italy’s populist government, which took office last year, has closed the country’s ports to the charity ships and insists that migrants be redistributed among European Union partners, a process that often requires lengthy talks.
Sea-Watch 3 is the only ship patrolling the area. Most of the others, more than 10 ships at one point, have withdrawn amid political and judicial pressure.