Between May 24 and May 27 around 400 migrants and refugees have been picked up by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya. Two of them drowned during the operation. An additional 90 migrants and refugees have been stopped by a commercial ship and have been returned to Libya as well. The pushback operations are funded and supported by the European Union (EU) and individual member states like Malta and Italy. While Libya has been an unsafe place from the start of the EU’s so called externalized border policy, COVID-19 brings even more risks as detention camps in Libya are high-risk areas for the spread of the virus and rescue operations on the Mediterranean Sea have been minimized. An additional element of danger is the intense civil war in Libya, which has turned into a geopolitical conflict and a proxy war between Russia and The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the one hand and Turkey on the other. The war takes its toll on the civilian population; on June 1 another 5 civilians were killed and 11 wounded in a rocket attack near Tripoli.
In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean organisations urge UNHCR and authorities to address roundups in Sudan; US sanctions South Sudan officials; PM Abiy Ahmed wants to work on peace with Eritrean President; Protection for human rights defenders in Ethiopia; Missing ministers in Eritrea; First Global Refugee Forum launced to improve conditions for refugees; Greece urges EU to “share the burden”; Children suicidal in Moria refugee camp, Greece; Teenagers accused of terrorism after interception at sea; Red cross argues EU should adress needs refugees and host communities instead of keeping them out; Turkey to support UN-backed government in Libya; Libyan coast guard and Europe critized by Ocean Viking coordinator; Personal experiences of conditions in Libya; And World Bank recalculates refugee data is needed.
The preamble of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, an instrument applicable to all member states of the European Union (EU) when implementing EU law, holds that “the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity,” centralising the idea that EU member states must protect human life. Yet, several Southern European Member States have criminalised search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea and charged the rescue operations with the criminal act of smuggling. Therefore, the operators face years in prison if convicted. At the same time, the EU has closed down its own SAR operations, relying on its deals with the Libyan coast guard to intercept boats.