Three vessels with an estimated 227 people on board sent out distress calls on Thursday while passing about 50 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. A dispute between the Maltese and Italian government over who had responsibility may have delayed rescue operations.
Rescue operations were eventually undertaken by two Italian coastguard vessels, who took the migrants to Tripoli in Lybia, without stopping in an Italian port.
The Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni was reported to have said that this is “an historical achievement after one year of bilateral negotiations with Libya”. Libya and Italy have signed a Friendship Treaty and related agreements that include provisions on combating irregular migration, including through joint patrolling of seas.
Amnesty International has said that, by failing to protect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers rescued at sea, the Italian and Maltese governments have breached their international obligations.
“The lives and safety of migrants and asylum-seekers have been placed at risk first by a squabble between the Italian and Maltese authorities over their obligations to respond to maritime distress calls, and then by the Italian government’s unprecedented decision to send them to the Libyan capital Tripoli, without assessing their protection needs,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
“Disputes over jurisdiction or responsibility should neither prevent nor delay the rescue and assistance of people who are at risk of drowning. States must ensure that any international cooperation or assistance efforts, including border controls or immigration policies, do not result in human rights abuses.”