While Malta and Italy have closed their harbours to rescue vessels and the captain of a rescue ship was arraigned in court in Valletta, some 218 people lost their lives at sea in just 48 hours between Friday and Saturday.
The International Organisation of Migration described the situation as “alarming” and said that a one-year-old child was among the dead.
On Saturday alone 91 men, 20 women and 3 children died at sea. Since the beginning of the year, over 1,200 people lost their lives while attempting to reach Europe by sea from Libya.
IOM also expressed alarm about the conditions of asylum seekers held in Libyan camps. In recent weeks, the Libyan coast guard rescued and intercepted some 10,000 people which IOM said are now being held in 20 detention centres “in extreme conditions.”
The organisation said the centres are overcrowded and the heat wave which saw temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees Celsius has made the situation worse.
On Monday, European Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said the EU would never send migrants back to Libya because of the inhumane conditions in Libyan migrant detention centres. “There will never be repatriations by the EU to Libya or European ships sending migrants back to Libya,” she said.
“That is against our values, international law and European law. We are well aware of the inhumane situation for many migrants in Libya. The UN is working to improve their conditions, and there is a mechanism of urgent transit, to evacuate these persons from Libya”.
This contradicts recent statements by Italian far-right home affairs minister Matteo Salvini and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who on Sunday said that economic migrants will be repatriated.
“We have the right to send these people back, and that is what we will do,” Muscat said.
Italy and Malta’s decision to deny entry to rescue vessels has drawn combination from NGOs who said the consequences “are potentially fatal, as the vessels will no longer be able to continue saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea.”
The Maltese Bishops also supported the NGOs’ statement which said that although closing ports is supposedly aimed at ensuring respect for the law, “this action directly undermines the protection of human life at Europe’s borders, making them even more dangerous for refugees and asylum seekers.”