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Mediterranean: how many people were saved by Sophia's ships? by the Libyan Coast Guard?

(B2) Previously, until 2017, the figure of people rescued appeared in all press releases, press kits and other public documents. It was one of the markers of the activity of the European maritime operation in the Mediterranean. It is now deleted. The rescue at sea of ​​migrants and refugees is no longer really popular in Italy, nor in Europe. Operation Sophia itself was rather poorly viewed by the new power in Rome, Italian sailors being deemed too respectful of a certain maritime tradition and perhaps quite simply of certain values.

How many people have been rescued at sea in recent months by EUNAVFOR ships?

According to a latest assessment drawn up by the EU operation in the central Mediterranean, which B2 was able to consult, the ships of Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR MED) were involved in 21 rescue operations (SOLAS events) enabling the rescue of 2.292 people. This represents a rate of just over 300 people per month and 9,6% of the total people rescued in the central Mediterranean Sea, by international or Libyan ships.

In total, 46.165 people were picked up by the ships of the EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia operation.

Over the period from October 2017 to July 2018, 4665 people were rescued by the operation's ships out of a total of 29.785 people rescued at sea by different ships. This represents a rescue rate of 15% provided by the ships of the European military operation and a rate of 400 people per month.

Between June 2015 and October 2017, approximately 41.500 lives were saved at sea during 278 rescue operations. Which then represented an average of 1 people per month.

The activity of NGO ships continues despite everything

According to the operation, NGO vessels are still carrying out search and rescue operations on the high seas off the coast of western Libya. Rescues by NGOs still represent a third (34%) of all people rescued and taken to Italy during the first half of 2018. But the proportion is shrinking compared to previous reporting periods. And since mid-summer, it has become rarer.

What is the activity of merchant ships?

The number of merchant ships participating in rescue operations has remained at a relatively constant level since 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In 2017, 119 ships participated in the rescue of 11.350 migrants or refugees. In the first six months of 2018, this number fell to 1329 people rescued.

A sharply rising mortality rate

Although the number of arrivals in Italy fell by 80% during the first eight months of 2018, the mortality rate continues to increase. In total, between January 1 and August 27, 1103 people died on the central Mediterranean route, mainly coming from Libya to Italy. That is a mortality rate of one death for every 29 arrivals, compared to one for every 41 people during the same period in 2017, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The trend observed in June is therefore confirmed, and even worsened, since since the last assessment (read: Are migratory flows decreasing? How many people arrived in Italy or Spain?) nearly 500 people died. That is an average of 230 people per month (over the two months of summer) compared to an average of 105 deaths per month (over the first six months of the year).

Are the Libyan Coast Guard more active?

Yes. During the first eight months of 2018, the Libyan Coast Guard, coastal security agents, like fishermen, rescued or intercepted nearly 12.945 people, i.e. almost half of the people who arrived in Italy (source OIM and UNHCR ).

Are the conditions of apprehension by the Libyan coast guard compliant?

The Libyan Coast Guard use firearms, resort to physical violence and make threats during search and rescue operations in Libyan and international waters », according to testimonies collected by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Once we arrived on land, it wasn't any better. The people intercepted and brought back to Libya are “ automatically placed under arrest, without procedural safeguards and are subject to serious violations of their fundamental rights ».

How many people are in Libyan detention centers?

About 8000 people are detained in centers run by the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Immigration. These detention centers are not run in accordance with Libyan law or international standards. The conditions of detention there are deplorable be it for accommodation, food and hygiene, according to the UNHCR. And they" risk of further deterioration due to severe overcrowding linked to the increase in the number of people intercepted, rescued and disembarked in Libya ". He is " often reports torture and other ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and exploitation assigned to guards. Women are not supervised by guards and unaccompanied children are detained with adults. This allows all the skids. " International organizations only really have access to these centers on an ad hoc basis and often with difficulty. » With increasing interception by the Libyan coast guard, pressure on these centers could increase.

How many people are ready to go?

The figure is difficult to estimate. There are evaluations. According to the UN, there are estimated to be more than 680.000 migrants, displaced persons or refugees who reside in the country without being officially in detention. The IOM counts 180.000 internally displaced people and 372.000 people returned to Libya. And the UNHCR has registered 53.000 refugees and asylum seekers.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: Are migratory flows decreasing? How many people arrived in Italy or Spain?

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).