Stranded refugees and migrants must be immediately allowed to dock in Italy or Malta

Twelve refugees and migrants who have been stranded in the Central Mediterranean on a Spanish fishing boat for almost a week must be allowed to disembark in Europe as soon as possible, said Amnesty International. 

Six days after they were rescued from the water by the Nuestra Madre de Loreto vessel, the 12 - including two children - remain on board in overcrowded conditions and stormy waters. 

Under no circumstances should these people be returned to Libya, where they would face arbitrary detention and possibly torture
Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International

“These people have risked their lives to escape human rights abuses in Libya and they should be disembarked without delay in the nearest place of safety in either Malta or Italy,” said Matteo de Bellis, Researcher on Asylum and Migration at Amnesty International.  

“Under no circumstances should they be returned to Libya, where they would face arbitrary detention and possibly torture and other abuses. Any instruction to the captain of the Nuestra Madre de Loreto to transfer the survivors to Libya would be contrary to international law, as Libya cannot be considered as a safe country for disembarkation.” 

According to media reports, the refugees and migrants were rescued on 22 November in international waters around 80 nautical miles from Libya. The precise details of the incident are yet to be clarified. However, reports suggest that many of them jumped into the sea after being approached by a Libyan Coast Guard vessel and were then pulled out of the water by the crew of the Nuestra Madre de Loreto. 

By closing ports and boosting the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity, European governments are blatantly disregarding their obligations under both maritime and human rights law
Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International

 
This is the latest in a series of instances of ships in the Central Mediterranean rescuing people at sea only to be blocked from docking in the nearest safe port.

“European governments appear to be sending a signal that people in danger at sea should be either abandoned there or sent back to Libya. By closing ports and boosting the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity to intercept people at sea, they are blatantly disregarding their obligations under both maritime and human rights law,” said Matteo de Bellis.

“These policies mean merchant vessels are deterred from carrying out life-saving rescue operations, or pushed to return people to Libya. It is time for European governments to stop playing with human lives and share responsibility for receiving people seeking safety.” 

Background 

Earlier this month Amnesty International highlighted how thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya continue to be trapped in appalling conditions in Libyan detention centres with no way out. 

In recent weeks 97 individuals were rescued and returned back to Libya. In an act of protest they refused to disembark to avoid being unlawfully detained and likely tortured.   

Amnesty International’s briefing, 'Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Europe fails refugees and migrants in the Central Mediterranean',highlights how European policies have resulted in a spiraling death rate among refugees and migrants, and analyzes how EU countriesare conspiring to keep refugees and migrants in Libya,where they are exposed to torture and other horrific violations and abuses. 

Unnecessary delays in indicating a place of safety for disembarkation have forced people in need of urgent assistance – including injured people, pregnant women, torture survivors, people traumatized by shipwrecks and unaccompanied minors – to remain at sea for several days.