Do EU countries purposely delay rescue missions to migrants lost at sea?

Humanitarian organizations and media investigations warn that EU coast guard services may be implicated in illegal pushbacks and intentional delays of rescue missions

June 18, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Source: ResQship/X

The Mediterranean Sea remains one of the world’s biggest graveyards thanks to European Union immigration policies. Reports abound of border control and coastguard services delaying rescue operations for migrant ships and engaging in illegal pushbacks.

Two of the most recent events occurred in Italian waters, where dozens of people were lost at sea, many of them presumed dead. One of the boats was en route from Turkey to Italy and carrying about 70 people on board. The hotline Alarm Phone, supporting people lost at sea, said they had forwarded a distress call to the Italian coastguard on Sunday, June 16, yet the agency reacted only hours after that. “We believe they knowingly delayed rescue,” Alarm Phone stated.

After the rescue operations were finally launched, friends and families on board reported dozens were lost at sea, among them over 20 children. “[According to the survivors] whole families from Afghanistan have died,” Shakilla Mohammadi from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told local media. “They told us that they were traveling without life jackets and that some boats did not stop to help them.”

The other boat, an 8-meter vessel made of wood, was transporting more than 60 people from Libya to Italy. When the humanitarian rescue boat Nadir, operated by the organization ResQship, reached it, 10 people had already drowned. To rescue some of those trapped, ResQship staff had to use axes. Those on board, including people from Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan, had paid approximately $3,500 USD for the trip, reports Il manifesto.

Greek coastguard’s role in pushbacks to Turkey

The news from Italy came around the same time as media investigations revealed the implication of the Greek coastguard in illegal pushbacks. According to the inquiry and testimonies by survivors, the actions of the coast guard caused the death of at least 43 people between 2020 and 2023. The testimonies recount particularly brutal actions by the agency, including migrants being beaten and thrown into the sea without life jackets, or with their hands tied behind their backs.

Among other events in which the agency is allegedly implicated is the case of the Adriana shipwreck, which occurred in June 2023. Human rights associations, including Amnesty International, have repeatedly called for more investigation into the event, wherein the Adriana capsized—possibly as the Greek coastguard attempted to tow it—with 750 people on board. Just over 100 people survived, many of whom are still interned at the same camp where they were brought after the shipwreck.

Close to 67,000 migrants reached Europe by sea in the first half of this year, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). At least 600 people died while trying to enter the EU. Most people undertake the voyage in extremely dangerous conditions, traveling in old, rusty ships, or even sailboats, in an attempt to flee war, occupation, and poverty. Despite the horrifying death toll, exacerbated by conservative migration policies, expected to get even worse as the far-right grows in strength, the EU continues to pursue its “Fortress Europe” vision.