On March, 27, the commercial tanker Elhiblu 1 was allegedly taken over by five of the 108 migrants it had saved from potentially drowning in the Mediterranean, in their attempt to cross from Libya to Europe.
Was this an act of piracy, as declared by Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini? Not according to Prof. Vella de Fremeaux, an expert in maritime law at the University of Malta.
Was the alleged taking over of the ship a violent act? Possibly, but this will now have to be established by a Maltese law court.
What is certain, however, is that this action was fuelled by desperation: it aimed at stopping the vessel from returning the 108 migrants, including 19 women and 12 children, to Libya – a country many asylum seekers have been describing as a living hell.
The gross human and children’s rights violations experienced by migrants in Libya, regardless of their gender or age, are nothing new.
Already a decade ago, JRS Malta’s 'Beyond Imagination' portrayed the terrifying experiences of people who suffered the worse kinds of abuses. In their report in late 2018, the United Nations reiterated once again that the situation for migrants in Libya is “desperate and dangerous”.
Recent reports from international organisations and reputable media houses also confirm that Libya is all but safe for migrants: migrant children suffer from “alarming rates of malnutrition”, according to recent findings by MSF, starving in Libyan detention camps; sexual violence against migrants, including men and boys, is rampant; migrants are being tortured for ransom and sold as slaves.
Unimaginable suffering is endured by people who left their country looking for a better life.
All this is terribly shocking even though it is old news. Information about the plight of migrants in Libya can easily be found online, from credible sources, for anyone who cares.
Do we care, though? Does Europe really care?
Matteo Salvini and his political likes have been trying to make us believe that Libya is a safe place to return asylum seekers to. Such an argument, of course, plays along well with the criminalisation of search and rescue NGOs, the financing of Libyan militia groups disguising themselves as coast guards or Italy’s intended blocking of a follow-up on the joint Operation Sophia.
And it eases concerns about the countless lives lost in the Mediterranean year after year – 289 of which were recorded in 2019, alone.
You can help change this. Demand action from your political representatives: #DontLetThemDrown! Stand up and make your voice heard in favour of solidarity. Speak up against misinformation, xenophobia and racism on social media. Stay informed about what’s happening. You could start with Libya.