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According to a Spokesman for the Libyan Navy, 420 migrants were rescued by the Libyan Navy while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. General Ayoub Qassem stated that 205 Africans, including eight women and a child, were rescued early on Monday, 20th March, 2017 off the coast of Tajura, 30km east of Tripoli. This was in addition to the 215 migrants, including 47 women, rescued by the Libyan coastguard off Zwara, 160km west of Tripoli on Sunday, 19th March, 2017. Among the group rescued on Monday, three women were discovered dead and 30 people were reported missing. According to Mr. Qassem’s statement, it is believed that the three women may have jumped or fallen off the boat during the night.
He went on to state that the migrants undertook their journey on two inflatable dinghies and it is believed that the smugglers pushed the two dinghies crammed with people out to sea before removing their engines and abandoning them to their fate.
This is not a novel occurrence in the area, as migrant smuggling has been booming since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. According to Euronews, migrant smugglers make 16,000 and 100,000 Euros (depending on the boat) from each crossing from Libya to Europe. Despite legal and institutional frameworks to combat the untamable scourge that has become irregular migration, the implementation process appears to be sorely lacking. In statements made to Euronews by the Head of Administration of the Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), he stated that the department was severely understaffed, underfunded, and under-equipped. Once illegal migrants are arrested by the DCIM, they are held in one of the country’s 22 detention centers. These detention centers are reportedly run by militias under the authority of the interior ministry. Detainees undergo immeasurable suffering in holding, with one female detainee revealing in an interview with Euronews that she had to exchange anal sex for milk for her baby.
According to the United Nations, 4,700 people died in the Mediterranean in 2016. During an Informal Meeting of EU Heads of State and Government on 3rd February 2017, hosted by the Maltese President and chaired by European Union Council President, 28 EU Heads of State met in Malta to discuss measures to stem the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy.
The Malta Declaration was the result of the summit and highlighted various steps to reduce the influx of migrants from Libya to Italy. For example, further efforts to disrupt the business model of smugglers through enhanced operational action by involving Libya and relevant international partners.
This is seen as a step in the right direction, however some are skeptical as to the practicality of the declaration’s objectives. Is mandating a country to manage the migration crisis and hosting migrants who have already suffered grave human rights injustices within its borders really feasible, or the in the best interests of the migrants—especially in light of its struggles with its own humanitarian crisis, a judicial vacuum, as well as political and ethnic hostility? Only time will tell.
We can only hope that the European Union as well as African Governments remain vigilant in the fight against migrant smuggling and prioritize the elimination of the causes of irregular migration—that is the key issue, not keeping the “gates” of the European Union Member States firmly shut.