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Migrant organisations condemn EU after 11 drown in latest migrant shipwreck off Libyan coast

THE Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) condemned the European Union (EU) today for scrapping its rescue missions after at least 11 people drowned off the coast of Libya when their boat capsized on Sunday.

“This tragedy and those before were completely avoidable had Europe stepped up and allowed rescue missions to bring migrants to safety, rather than shift responsibility to others,” NRC spokesman Dax Roque said.

Last month, 130 people drowned in a shipwreck as they tried to make their way from Libya to Europe along the perilous Central Mediterranean route, the deadliest incident in years.

The latest tragedy took place off near the western Libyan town of Zawiya, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

“The continuous loss of life calls for an urgent change in approach to the situation in Libya and the Central Med,” an IOM statement said.

The 12 people who were rescued after Sunday’s shipwreck were taken back to Libya where rights groups warn they will be housed in “squalid conditions” in one of the country’s migrant detention centres.

The EU has funnelled millions to the Libyan coastguard in a bid to prevent migrants from reaching its shores, despite widespread allegations of rape, torture and trafficking when they are taken back to detention centres.

A 2019 Associated Press (AP) report found that “huge sums of  European money have been diverted to intertwined networks of militiamen,  traffickers and coastguard members who exploit migrants.”

In some cases UN officials knew that militia networks were getting the money, according to internal emails seen by AP.

As many as 7,000 Europe-bound migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year, according to the IOM, despite concerns over their treatment.

“Libya is not currently a safe place for this community,” Mr Roque said. “More than half a million migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are in Libya, many living in dire conditions. 

“Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are among the most vulnerable people in Libya and face arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions, exploitation, kidnapping, sexual violence, high rates of torture, disappearances, extortion, among other abuses,” he added.

Mr Roque said that “safe and legal pathways to reach Europe are practically non-existent, pushing them to risk their lives in this way.” 

The NRC has called for the EU to rethink its policy on migrant rescue operations following a spike in those trying to make the crossing from Libya in recent weeks.

“With summer on the horizon, we expect more people to take this perilous journey,” Mr Roque said.

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