By Anna Schaeffer
By Anna Schaeffer
Rabat – Just three days after European Union members settled a long-battled migration deal, nearly two hundred people went missing in the Mediterranean.
After weeks of tense dialogue and dispute, the 28 EU members reached a compromise at a Brussels summit Friday, June 29. To discourage refugees from boarding smuggler boats en route to Europe, “disembarkation platforms” will be constructed in North Africa.
Additionally, the agreement includes plans for secure centers within the EU to process arrivals into two groups: those “in need of protection” and others—“economic refugees”—to be sent back.
What’s happening in Libya?
This year alone, more than 1,000 people have died attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe. The figure comes from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), whose Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi called the head-reeling number an “alarming increase in deaths at sea off the Libya Coast.”
Libya is a key point for Africans embarking towards Europe, often on desperately overcrowded inflatable boats. Sometimes, the vessels hold over three times the intended number of passengers.
Sixty-three people, including three babies, are missing and feared dead from a wreck Friday, the same day the EU reached their agreement. During the weekend over 170 more men, women, and children went missing in the Mediterranean from three separate boats.
The spokesman for Libya’s navy, General Ayoub Kacem, said departures have increased in anticipation and fear of closed European borders. Recently, Rome closed its nation’s ports to NGO rescue ships.
A speech by Doctors without Borders (MSF) Migration Advisor Aurelie Ponthieu on the EU’s battle towards a compromise emphasized the true nature of the situation.
“Policy makers are failing to see that the majority of people have no choice but to come to Europe; fleeing conflict, crisis or chaos in Libya,” Ponthieu said. “Policies of containment and walls of deterrence are not the answer to this global humanitarian crisis. They will only continue to push people into long, dangerous journeys and into the hands of smugglers.”
“Until we can offer safe and legal alternatives to leaky boats and life-threatening journeys in Libya, this extreme suffering will continue.”
What happens to the “rescued?”
In addition to the nearly two hundred missing and dead this weekend alone, a Libyan coastguard boat arrived Monday in Tripoli with 235 people retrieved from two operations. The substantial figure includes 29 women and 54 infants.
Upon arrival back on Libya’s coast, authorities placed the individuals in detention centers.
IOM Director General William Lacy Swing will travel to Tripoli this week to “see firsthand the conditions of migrants who have been rescued as well as those returned to shore by the Libya Coast Guard.”
Swing addressed the exploitation by smugglers of desperate migrants, racing against the clock to reach Europe before further border crackdowns.
“IOM is determined to ensure that the human rights of all migrants are respected as together we all make efforts to stop the people-smuggling trade, which is so exploitative of migrants.”
Reactions to EU compromise
Responses to the heavily disputed settlement range from backlash to praise. EU President Donald Tusk warned of its potential to fail, while Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic—each with staunchly anti-refugee atmospheres at present—lauded the deal’s success.
The new populist government in Italy, after closing their ports to rescue ships, originally refused the deal, but eventually acquiesced.
France and Austria both withdrew their nations from hosting secure centers for refugee arrivals.
Morocco refused the implementation of reception centers in Morocco. Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita stated, “[Morocco] rejects and has always rejected these kinds of methods for managing the issue of migration flows.”
MSF immediately reacted to the deal, emphasizing the settlement will succeed in turning away from Europe’s shores the most vulnerable men, women, and children.