“No crisis justifies letting people drown in the Mediterranean”. Stefan Schütz, chief of mission aboard the ship “Alan Kurdi” of the German NGO Sea-Eye, traces the route in the Mediterranean. In a video posted on Twitter on April 2, he affirms that the crew is perfectly equipped to handle possible cases of coronavirus on board and announces the arrival of the humanitarian ship off the Libyan coast, on the day of Saturday April 4 . After two months of repair, the Spanish authorities had given him permission to drop the moorings earlier this week.
→ READ. Libya: war continues without a break
The Mediterranean has more than ever become a big black hole. All taken by the Covid-19, the eyes are still more diverted from the tragedy which takes place in Libya. And no more humanitarian vessels have been operating at sea since the end of February, the border closings preventing crews from winning their boats.
The German “Sea Watch 3” landed 194 people rescued in Messina, Sicily, on February 28. Nine days before the “Ocean Viking”, operated by MSF and SOS Mediterranean, had landed 276 people in Pozzallo, also in Sicily. The two boats were then placed in quarantine. As for the Spanish “Open arms”, it had carried out its last mission at the end of January, like the “Alan Kurdi”.
“Is it reasonable to go back to sea if you have no port to disembark? “
The “Ocean Viking”, which was finally able to reach the port of Marseille on March 20, also said it was ready for new missions, but still hesitated. “Is it reasonable to go back to sea if there is no port to disembark? ” wonders Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, MSF adviser on humanitarian affairs. But Sea-Eye wonders “How many people have disappeared at sea without being noticed in recent weeks”.
Last year, 1,319 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Irini, the new European operation which succeeds Sophia, since this month of April, is intended to monitor the arms embargo, and is positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean, precisely away from the rescue zones.
→ READ. Libya: UNHCR forced to evacuate center for asylum seekers in Tripoli
According to data from the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2,557 people left Libya and reached Italy by sea in January and February, while 2,043 were intercepted by the coast guards and brought back to the ground Libyan. In March, only 155 migrants reached Malta and Italy, and 634 were intercepted at sea.
“The sea remains the only escape”
“The sea was very bad in March”, underlines Jean-Paul Cavalieri, HCR responsible for Libya. Above all, however, the situation in Libya has deteriorated sharply, he warns, testifying to the rain of buses on the outskirts of Tripoli. And too busy with the fighting, the smuggling sectors have been less active.
“Departures should resume this spring, the sea remains the only escape”, Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui notes. The sky is closed. The international migration organization can no longer carry out repatriations to the countries of origin, and the departures of the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers to neighboring Niger are also stopped. And in Libya at war, the plight of the 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered by the UNHCR, and that of other migrants, is particularly critical. The lives of Libyans themselves have deteriorated dramatically, let alone that of the 350,000 displaced.
“Migrants are very afraid of going out, they are the first to be checked”
In East Libya, Marshal Haftar’s army has been engaged for two weeks in “Mass expulsions of migrants and asylum seekers to Sudan and Niger”, denounces Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the situation in the central Mediterranean.
In Tripoli, “The neighborhoods are barricaded by the militias, there is a curfew from 2 p.m. to 7 a.m. The migrants are very afraid of going out, they are the first to be checked ”, testifies Jean-Paul Cavalieri. The UNHCR has had to reduce the operation of its day center and is trying to distribute food in the neighborhoods, in connection with the Libyan Red Crescent. “We are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe”, he believes.
The reality of the coronavirus epidemic is a big unknown and the country unable to deal with it. “The situation is terribly distressing, recognizes Jean-Paul Cavalieri, for UNHCR staff, for Libyans, for refugees, for the displaced, for precarious workers ”.