In the past few years, thousands of people from Libya have attempted to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to escape poverty, war, and persecution in their homelands. Flavio Di Giacomo, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman quoted, “most migrants leaving Libya came from Guinea, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Bangladesh.”
These perilous journeys to Europe are motivated by the hope of a good life, without effectively calculating the risks involved. Consequently, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who have died at sea. This has alarmed several human rights organizations. Since the Balkan route was shut down by an agreement between the European Union and Turkey last year, the stretch of sea between Libya and Italy – the Central Mediterranean – has become the busiest route for refugees and the major focal point of human tragedy. The Central Mediterranean route is longer and even more unsafe than the Balkan route.
The IOM has reported that between January 1 and March 10 at least 525 people drowned while making the dangerous crossings from Libya. This is compared with the 471 in the same period a year ago. Last Thursday, the news flashed, at least 250 more feared dead in the Mediterranean after two rubber dinghies were found partially submerged off the coast of Libya.
Proactiva Open Arms, one of the several groups operating in the Mediterranean to provide assistance to the sinking boats, informed the international community that the human smugglers have been using rubber dinghies that are prone to capsizing. Moreover, smugglers tend to fill them over the capacity limit which is of 120 people, to maximize their benefits. But in the end who is responsible for the human life crisis in the Mediterranean?
The answer is simple: no one. There is no one in the international community that has taken the responsibility of the dead and no country claims to own the sea when refugees are drowning. On the contrary, the blame is conveniently pushed on the refugees who put their lives in danger for a life without poverty and conflict.
The Director for Europe at Human Rights Watch stated that “although the migration cooperation with Libya is deeply problematic, the EU should be doing a lot more to get people out of Libya in a safe way and a lawful way so they don’t have to risk their lives to do so… Clearly, the EU is not at all keen to do that.” Instead of protecting these refugees from the hardships they encounter in their home countries, the European leaders have forgotten their humanitarian values and are instead utilizing all their resources towards stemming the flow of African migrants.
In February 2017, European leaders signed a controversial deal to provide $215 million to Libya’s fragile government to set up efforts to prevent refugee boats from crossing the country’s territorial waters. The EU will also extend its support in setting up ‘safe’ camps for people in Libya and provide assistance for refugees who are willing to return to their home countries.
Elisa De Pieri, a European researcher at Amnesty International, firmly believes that the EU should concentrate on search and rescue of the migrants rather than trying to avert their flight from the dangers and violence they endure in Libya. This is a common view held among many international human rights organizations.
The Mediterranean has become a sight for human tragedy and an immediate human right emergency should be declared on the route from Libya to Italy. If not, then the Italian interior ministry projections which state that another 250,000 will have to be accommodated this year by Italy and the number of death tolls would double that of the previous year, have considerable chances of coming true.