The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, in a report released in London on Wednesday blamed the countries of the European Union for the high number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean so far this summer.
“The EU’s support for the Libyan Coastguard in preventing departures from the North African coast for Europe and turning boats back to Libya is “contributing to rendering the central Mediterranean route more dangerous for refugees and migrants, and rescue at sea unreliable.
“Some deaths at sea along this perilous route are unavoidable, as long as smugglers force people to travel in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, with no food, water, safety equipment, or sufficient fuel on board.
“The recent surge in deaths at sea, however, cannot be dismissed as an inescapable misfortune,” the rights charity said, singling out the new populist government in Rome for special criticism.
Italy has denied entry to its ports to several boats with rescued migrants on board and has impounded rescue boats belonging to non-governmental organisations. Malta has acted similarly.
This has “rendered the search and rescue system unreliable, unpredictable, and punitive,” Amnesty said.
While fewer people were managing to reach Europe via the so-called central route to Italy, more were drowning at sea: The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported a record monthly total of 564 deaths in June and a further 157 in July.
Across the whole Mediterranean, 1,514 migrants have died making the treacherous sea crossing this year.
“The refusal to allow disembarkation has left “frail and exhausted rescued people” stranded at sea for days and weeks.
“This is increasing the risk that distress calls will not be answered and people will be sent back to Libya to face “torture or ill-treatment … in breach of international and European law.
“The number of people detained in Libyan detention centres has more than doubled from 4,400 in March to over 10,000 by the end of July,’’ Amnesty said, citing the Libyan authorities.