Every day last year, more than four people on average died attempting to cross the central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe, and around 90 were intercepted by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard – returned to detention centres where they face a cycleof torture, extortion, and sexual abuse.
This year, with crossings guaranteed to increase in the warm summer months, more than 8,200 people have already been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and nearly 700have died or gone missing at sea.
Year after year, the deaths and interception follow a well-established, predictable pattern. But instead of saving lives or protecting the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants, “European countries have engaged in a race to the bottom to keep people in need of our protection outside our borders,” Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote in a March 2021 report.
Intercepted & returned in 2021
That race has involved withdrawing European navy and coast guard assets from rescue activities in the central Mediterranean, obstructing the operations of rescue NGOs, and funding the implementations of border management projects in Libya and Tunisia aimed at preventing people from crossing the sea.
The system that has been created by this process is “one of the most glaring examples of how bad migration policies undercut human rights law and have cost the lives of thousands of human beings”, according to Mijatović’s report.
Asked for comment, Peter Stano, the European Commission’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, told The New Humanitarian via email: “Our top priority is saving lives at sea and we will continue our work to prevent these risky journeys from taking place.”
Below, we show how straightforward search and rescue at sea can be. Then, explore the interactive storyline to see how the EU-backed migration control system in the central Mediterranean facilitates more interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard and reduces search and rescue capacity – increasing the likelihood of shipwrecks and deaths.