Author: Aritz Parra
The Libyan coastguard has been accused of abandoning three people in the Mediterranean, including a woman and a toddler who were found dead.
Proactiva Open Arms (POA), a Spanish rescue group, said it came across the drifting remains of a destroyed migrant boat about 80 nautical miles from the Libyan coast. One other woman clinging to the wreckage was still alive, it said.
The discovery followed the coastguard’s interception of some 160 Europe-bound migrants near the shores of the North African nation earlier this week.
POA posted images and videos of the wreckage and the dead bodies on social media, accusing both a merchant ship sailing in international waters and Libya’s coastguard of failing to help the three migrants.
Libyan coastguard spokesman Ayoub Gassim had earlier said that a boat carrying 158 passengers, including 34 women and nine children, had been stopped off the coast of the western town of Khoms.
He said the migrants were given humanitarian and medical aid and were taken to a refugee camp.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has conducted several rounds of training with Libya’s coastguard which has previously been accused of opening fire on migrants, stealing from and beating them, and accepting bribes to release them from custody.
This training has included human rights education and classes on navigation, maritime law and boat-handling. The Independent has contacted the MoD for comment.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for people fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa and the Middle East.
Italy‘s new populist government has vowed to halt the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean and has given aid to Libyan authorities to increase efforts to stem the flow.
Human rights activists have sharply criticised that assistance and claimed that migrants being returned to Libya are at risk of beatings, abuse, rape and slavery.
Oscar Camps, the head of POA, blamed the Italian government’s cooperation with Libyan authorities for the death of the woman and the toddler that his group found.
“This is the direct consequence of contracting armed militias to make the rest of Europe believe that Libya is a state, a government and a safe country,” Mr Camps said in a video posted on Twitter.
Mr Camps said the two women and the toddler had refused to board the Libyan vessels with the rest of the intercepted migrants and the three were abandoned in the sea after the Libyan coast guard destroyed the migrants’ boat.
Their deaths were the result of not allowing aid groups like Proactiva to work in the Mediterranean, he said.
Both Italy and Malta have blocked aid groups from operating rescue boats, either by refusing them entry to their ports or by impounding their vessels and putting their crews under investigation.
The UN migration agency, meanwhile, said the number of migrants and refugees who have arrived in Spain by sea this year has overtaken those who have reached Italy.
The International Organisation for Migration(IOM) said that Spain received 18,016 migrants up to 15 July, while 17,827 people landed in Italy during the same period.
Aid groups have reported a rise in the number of crossings to Spain and Greece compared to the previous year, while arrivals in Italy are down almost 80 per cent from 2017.
The overall number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea this year totals 50,872, less than half the 109,746 who came in by mid-July last year. In 2016 during the same period, 241,859 migrants came to Europe.
IOM also said 1,443 people are dead or missing in the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route up to July 15 this year.