Graveyard At Sea: 11 Bodies Recovered Off the Coast of Libya

Doctors Without Borders found 11 bodies off Libya coast, rescuing dozens, criticizing European migration policies, Italian-Libya cooperation, and human rights abuses in the Mediterranean.

Graveyard At Sea: 11 Bodies Recovered Off the Coast of Libya
Photo source: By dimitrisvetsikas1969, 19 October 2021, via Pixabay

09-06-2024 

Giulia Fabrizi 

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

On June 7, 2024, Doctors Without Borders’ rescue vessel Geo Barents received an alert from Sea Watch’s SeaBird crew regarding floating bodies in the waters off the coast of Libya. After a 9-hour-long search operation, the team recovered 11 bodies and rescued dozens of people.

 

Unable to determine the cause or time of the tragedy, Geo Barents transferred the bodies to a vessel of the Guardia Costiera (the Italian Coast Guard) operating near Lampedusa (Italy); the ship then resumed navigation towards the port of Genova, 650 nautical miles away, to disembark the 165 survivors.

 

On social media platforms, Doctors Without Borders heavily criticised the “devastating and bloody European policies on migration and non-assistance for people taking the Mediterranean.” This year alone, they insist, at least 923 men, women, and children have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Indeed, the Central Mediterranean crossing is considered to be the deadliest migration route in the world, with more than twenty thousand deaths and disappearances in the last 10 years.

 

Europe itself, with the vigorous contribution of members like Italy, has implemented criminal tactics to reduce arrivals and rescue operations with the goal of limiting European jurisdiction. On the one hand, they encourage partners such as Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia to stop people from departing the African shores. Often entailing detention, violence, and abuses, such practices come at the expense of migrants’ lives and well-being. On the other hand, a growing corpus of legislation has been implemented to criminalise rescue organisations. It is no coincidence that Geo Barents was forced to sail all the way to Genova, in the north-western part of Italy, to disembark the aforementioned survivors; unnecessary long journeys are especially aimed at delaying assistance towards further emergencies and wasting rescuers’ time and resources.

 

In Libya, particularly, extensive evidence has been gathered in the past decade on trafficking, detaining, and torturing migrants for ransom at the hands of militias and armed groups, but also at those of government-funded agencies, such as the Libyan Coast Guard.

 

Following the fall of Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi, two civil wars, and countless crises (including an Islamic State Caliphate in Sirte), Libya remains divided: in the West, with capital Tripoli, the Government of National Unity is guided by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh; in the East, Aguila Saleh leads the House of Representatives with the support of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Despite the compromise reached in March to hold the long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections, the tensions seem insurmountable, and the political stalemate continues.

 

The Italian-Libya cooperation on migration actually dates back to Gaddafi’s four-decade reign: in 2007, the Kais and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a ‘friendship and cooperation agreement’ on various topics - among them, migration flows.

 

Today, though, the relationship falls against the background of another - more infamous - EU-Sponsored Memorandum of Understanding. Signed in 2017 and renewed in 2020 and 2023, under this agreement, Italy pledges to provide help, training, and money to the Libyan patrolling authorities (especially the Libyan Coast Guard) to control migration flows and decrease departures from the north-African country As mentioned, this way, Italy contributes to the human rights abuses that migrants have to endure as they are intercepted in the desert or at sea, sent back, and forced to remain in a land that lacks the guarantees for their human rights or opportunities.

 

As Russia’s presence in Libya expands, Europe sees it necessary to strengthen its grip on the country and North Africa overall to control migration flows. And Italy, as a stable crosspoint between Libya and the West, is the perfectly placed pawn to do so. This, although, will not only come at the cost of Libya’s integrity and political stability - due to the exacerbation of existing rivalries and little to no resolution of systemic deficits - but mostly at the expense of migrants’ rights.

 

Sources and further readings:

MSF Sea at X, ‘In the afternoon, #GeoBarents received an alert from #SeaBird crew who spotted bodies of people floating at sea.  @seawatchcrew As the team arrived on scene, a #search operation started to locate the bodies.’ <https://x.com/MSF_Sea/status/1799157204853072340> accessed on June 12, 2024.

Al Jazeera, ‘Bloody policies’: MSF recovers 11 bodies from Mediterranean off Libya’ (June 8, 2024) <‘Bloody policies’: MSF recovers 11 bodies from Mediterranean off Libya | Migration News | Al Jazeera> accessed on June 9, 2024.

ANSA, ‘Undici corpi di migranti recuperati al largo della Libia’ (June 7, 2024) <Undici-corpi-di-migranti-recuperati-al-largo-della-libia> accessed on June 9, 2024.

MSF Sea at X, ‘TRIGGER WARNING After conducting two rescues early this morning,  @MSF  teams witnessed yet again the result of the devastating and bloody #European policies on #migration and non-assistance for people taking the #Mediterranean. And this time, 11 people lost their lives‼️’ <https://x.com/MSF_Sea/status/1799157202244235367> accessed on June 12, 2024.

Human Rights Watch, ‘Italy Reups Funding to Force Migrants Back to Libya’ (February 1, 2023) <Italy Reups Funding to Force Migrants Back to Libya | Human Rights Watch> accessed on June 9, 2024.

Al Jazeera, ‘Bloody policies’: MSF recovers 11 bodies from Mediterranean off Libya’ (June 8, 2024) <‘Bloody policies’: MSF recovers 11 bodies from Mediterranean off Libya | Migration News | Al Jazeera> accessed on June 9, 2024.

Human Rights Watch, ‘Italy Reups Funding to Force Migrants Back to Libya’ (February 1, 2023) <Italy Reups Funding to Force Migrants Back to Libya | Human Rights Watch> accessed on June 9, 2024.

Medicins Sans Frontiers, ‘Italy-Libya agreement: Five years of EU-sponsored abuse in Libya and the central Mediterranean’ (February 2, 2022) <Italy-Libya agreement: Five years of EU-sponsored abuse in Libya and the central Mediterranean | MSF> accessed on June 9, 2024.

ISPI, ‘Libya’s Stable Instability’ (May 16, 2024) <Libya’s Stable Instability | ISPI> accessed on June 9, 2024.

La Stampa, ‘Immigrazione, accordo Italia-Libia’ (December 29, 2007) <https://www.lastampa.it/cronaca/2007/12/29/news/immigrazione-accordo-italia-libia-1.37114694/> accessed on June 12, 2024.

Amnesty International, ‘Italia-Libia: cancellare il Memorandum d’Intesa’ (October 19, 2022) <Italia-Libia: cancellare il memorandum d'intesa - Appelli> accessed on June 9, 2024.

Medicins Sans Frontiers, ‘Italy-Libya agreement: Five years of EU-sponsored abuse in Libya and the central Mediterranean’ (February 2, 2022) <Italy-Libya agreement: Five years of EU-sponsored abuse in Libya and the central Mediterranean | MSF> accessed on June 9, 2024.

ISPI, ‘Libya’s Stable Instability’ (May 16, 2024) <Libya’s Stable Instability | ISPI> accessed on June 9, 2024.