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AN NGO migrant rescue organisation said today that it has witnessed refugees in distress at sea being pushed back to Libya, a day after the European Union border agency boasted about a drop in the numbers of irregular migrant crossings into Europe.
Refugee rescue ship Sea Watch 3 tweeted this afternoon that it had rescued around 60 people in international waters off the coast of Libya in the morning.
The German charity that operates the ship said it found the refugees in a rubber dinghy.
“[We] also witnessed people on other boats in distress being illegally pulled back to war-torn Libya by its so-called coastguard, Europe’s partner in border control,” Sea Watch said.
In a press release yesterday, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) said irregular migration into Europe is at the lowest point since 2013.
Frontex said this is “due to a drop in the number of people reaching European shores via the central and western Mediterranean routes.”
Frontex said preliminary data from last year showed “a 6 per cent fall in illegal border crossings along the EU’s external borders to just over 139,000 ... 92 per cent below the record number set in 2015.”
The number of refugees crossing the central Mediterranean fell roughly 41 per cent to around 14,000, it said.
Frontex did not mention the nearly 1,300 people who, according to the International Organisation for Migration this week, died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2019.
Sea Watch spokeswoman Haidi Sadik told the Star that the EU border agency was directly complicit in the ongoing deaths and deadly crimes occurring in the Mediterranean.
“Frontex claiming that irregular migration has fallen, implying that this is an indication of success of European migration policy, is nothing short of disgusting,” Ms Sadik said.
“Just this morning, we have witnessed large numbers of people being taken back to an active war zone – essentially a death sentence.
“The only thing such supposed ‘deterrence’ policies have succeeded in is causing more preventable deaths of people fleeing at sea and entirely disregarding human rights at mass scale.”
Axel Steier, co-founder of migrant rescue NGO Mission Lifeline, branded Frontex a criminal organisation, telling the Star that it “provides data to militias to prevent [refugees] from fleeing.
“People saved in the Mediterranean are discovered by reconnaissance drones but are not reported to rescue ships. Instead, Frontex ensures that the refugees are returned to a country at civil war where they are tortured, enslaved, raped and murdered.”
Earlier this week, the Star reported that Mission Lifeline ship captain Claus-Peter Reisch had had a criminal conviction for sailing a refugee rescue vessel without proper registration in June 2018 overturned by a court in Malta.
Eighteen months later and despite the decision, Malta has yet to release the Lifeline, the ship Mr Reisch was captain of when he disembarked 234 refugees on the island.
“Human rights are no longer the premise of Europe’s approach to the humanitarian crisis outside its borders,” Julian Pahlke, a spokesman for migrant rescue NGO Sea Eye, told the Star.
“Instead of providing aid to people on the move, the EU and all its member states are training and equipping so-called coastguards to violate international law and return people to Libya.”
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