The humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee said on Thursday that its crew had rescued 121 people, among them 19 women and two small children, from an overcrowded rubber boat off Libya. Another 140 migrants were returned to Libya by coast guards on Wednesday.
Early on February 4, the crew on board the humanitarian rescue ship Ocean Viking rescued 121 people from an "overcrowded” rubber dinghy. Among them 19 women and two small children.
The boat in which the migrants were traveling was spotted "at first light this morning" in "international waters" about "30 nautical miles off the port of Al Khoms in Libya," according to SOS Mediterranee.
The day before, on February 3, two other migrant boats carrying 140 people were intercepted and returned to Tripoli by Libyan coast guards, according to a tweet by the UN refugee agency.
Alarm Phone, the hotline for boats in distress at sea, on Wednesday tweeted about another boat in distress in the central Mediterranean.
According to Alarm Phone, "a boat with about 90 people, among them women and children, just called #AlarmPhone." Alarm Phone said it had "alerted the authorities to launch an immediate rescue."
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Alarm Phone said they had "survived the night at sea and were able to move slowly north." They were nearing Lampedusa. At lunchtime on Thursday, Alarm Phone issued another update, saying that they had "learned that 99 people arrived in Lampedusa in the morning and we believe they were on the boat we accompanied during the night. We wish them all the best for their future in Europe!"
Just before they had issued the arrival tweet, another boat appeared to have put to sea and found itself "in danger" off the Libyan coast. According to Alarm Phone, this has about 110 people on board and is "taking on water." Alarm Phone said that the motor on board the boat is not working and the people on board have no life vests. They tweeted in Italian that a "tragedy is imminent."
The Ocean Viking set sail from the port of Augusta, Sicily on February 2. The boat successfully rescued 374 people in January according to a mission report published on February 4. The ship's crew posted on Twitter that those rescued by the Ocean Viking "describe harrowing stories of violence and abuse experienced in Libya."
Accompanying the tweet, they posted a drawing of two men "beating" a person who appeared to be tied up and hanging from the ceiling. Another frame of the drawing showed a person apparently being electrocuted. In two more frames, lots of people sat on the floor, looking up at one man, perhaps a guard, holding either a big stick, a gun or a knife or sword.
'No other option'
SOS Mediterranee commented that those on board the dinghies see "no other option to regain hope and dignity," other than attempting to reach Europe on a boat. Some of the survivors had made "up to five attempts to escape, even if this could mean dying at sea," the NGO said.
Rights groups and international organizations have repeatedly said that Libya cannot be considered a "Place of Safety" under any international standards. Libyan coast guards, however, continue to intercept and return boats back to Libya, where migrants are often sent back into a cycle of detention, blackmail, exploitation and sometimes violence and torture.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report in February 2021 in which they assessed the multi-sector needs (MSNA) of refugees and migrants in Libya, to help them plan aid for the rest of the year.
Multiple sector needs facing migrants and refugees in Libya
The MSNA survey talked to a total of 1,551 migrants and refugees present in Libya, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, as well as the Middle East and North African countries. 84% of respondents were male and 16% female. The survey confirmed that Libya’s political situation was "strained" due to an "increasingly protracted conflict" as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey noted that migrants and refugees in the county were "particularly vulnerable to discrimination, reduced livelihood opportunities, limited access to basic services and assistance, and the risk of arbitrary detention, exploitation, trafficking, harassment and abuse."
The report authors estimated that in 2021, 304,000 migrants and 44,000 refugees have "unmet needs." Those two groups taken together represent "28% of the total estimated people in need inside Libya."
44% of respondents were living with some element of a so-called food security living standard gap, meaning they were unable to access adequate food and drinking water.
94% of respondents had problems with accommodation and felt they had no security of tenure in the property they were renting. 49% said they didn’t have access to safe and healthy housing at all, and 38% didn’t own "basic items to sustain a minimum decent standard of living."
Many of the respondents felt unsafe in Libya. 68% expressed "safety and security concerns for children." 56% had safety and security concerns for themselves.
The difficulty for many migrants and refugees to earn money in Libya was also assessed. 61% of respondents reported "relying on temporary or daily labor as their main source of income." 57% said they had faced challenges to earn enough to meet their basic needs in the 30 days prior to being surveyed.
The survey concluded that many of the respondents, at least 30% were living with some kind of "capacity gap" which generally undermined their resilience to cope with all the other difficult situations they were being faced with.