A migrant boat off the Libyan coast was in distress with 150 people on board, activists said on Monday. They were eventually intercepted by a merchant ship and returned to Libya. The aid organization Alarm Phone has deemed the return as "commercial refoulement."
A migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea was in distress with an estimated 150 people on board, activists said on Monday. On Tuesday the migrants on the boat were picked up by a merchant ship and taken back to Khoms in Libya, dpa reports. The migrants on board were allegedly told that the merchant ship would take them to Rome, the aid organization Alarm Phone wrote on Twitter.
Chain of events
The Mediterranea Saving Humans group, which monitors migrants rescue efforts, tweeted on Monday, February 11, that it heard about a distress signal from a boat near Al Khoms, Libya. "Urgent! 150 lives at risk! Alarm Phone has collected a damaged boat call from Al Khoms (Libya). 50-60 women and 30 children on board. The engine is no longer running. No rescue in sight, the Italian and Maltese authorities were notified around noon," reads the tweet.
Alarm Phone said they lost contact with the boat and cannot reach those on board anymore. In a tweet, the group said the "#Italian authorities once again rejected responsibility and informed the Libyan #coastguards. We fear that the people are currently being abducted back to horrible detention camps in #Libya."
Flavio Di Giacomo, the spokesperson for the Coordination Office for the Mediterranean of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also expressed his concerns. "Very concerned about this situation. No one is aware of ANY ongoing rescue operations at the moment. These people are in grave danger and risking their lives and they must be saved."
Back to Libya
On Tuesday, it was reported that the migrants had been picked up and returned to Libya. Alarm Phone said those on the boat were returned to live in "hellish conditions."
One of the survivors reached out to Alarm Phone already and told them the conditions the migrants went through, saying "we should have better died" in the Mediterranean.
Di Giacomo painted a similar version of events and tweeted this was unacceptable as Libya was not a safe port.
Alarm Phone called the move a form of refoulement that was of great concern.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Italy and the European Union for allowing migrants intercepted at sea to be sent back to Libya. In January, Human Rights Watch reported that migrants locked in overcrowded Libyan camps, including children, have no access to decent food, healthcare or sanitation, and are routinely beaten up.