On Frontex again – Sara Creta, Bashar Deeb, Klaas van Dijken, Emmanuel Freudenthal, Steffen Lüdke und Maximilian Popp in Der Spiegel:
‘At sunrise, Alek Musa was still in good spirits. On the morning of June 25, 2020, he crowded onto an inflatable boat with 69 other people seeking asylum. Most of the refugees were Sudanese like him. They had left the Libyan coastal city of Garabulli the night before. Their destination: the island of Lampedusa in Italy. Musa wanted to escape the horrors of Libya, where migrants like him are captured, tortured and killed by militias.
The route across the central Mediterranean is one of the world’s most dangerous for migrants. Just last week, another 100 people died as they tried to reach Europe from Libya. Musa was confident, nonetheless. The sea was calm and there was plenty of fuel in the boat’s tank.
But then, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., Musa saw a small white plane in the sky. He shared his story by phone. There is much to suggest that the aircraft was a patrol of the European border protection agency Frontex. Flight data shows that a Frontex pilot had been circling in the immediate vicinity of the boat at the time.
However, it appears that Frontex officials didn’t instruct any of the nearby cargo ships to help the refugees – and neither did the sea rescue coordination centers. Instead, hours later, Musa spotted the Ras Al Jadar on the horizon, a Libyan coast guard vessel.
With none of them wanting to be hauled back to Libya, the migrants panicked. "We tried to leave as quickly as possible,” says Musa, who won’t give his real name out of fear of retaliation.
Musa claims the Libyans rammed the dinghy with their ship. And that four men had gone overboard. Images from an aircraft belonging to the private rescue organization Sea-Watch show people fighting for their lives in the water. At least two refugees are believed to have died in the operation. All the others were taken back to Libya.’
‘The European Court of Human Rights ruled back in 2012 that refugees may not be brought back to Libya because they are threatened with torture and death there. But that’s exactly what Libyan border guards are doing. With the help of the Europeans, they are intercepting refugees and hauling them back to Libya. According to an internal EU document, 11,891 were intercepted and taken back ashore last year.’
‘Together with the media organization "Lighthouse Reports", German public broadcaster ARD's investigative magazine "Monitor" and the French daily "Libération", DER SPIEGEL has investigated incidents in the central Mediterranean Sea over a period of months. The reporters collected position data from Frontex aircraft and cross-checked it with ship data and information from migrants and civilian rescue organizations. They examined confidential documents and spoke to survivors as well as nearly a dozen Libyan officers and Frontex staff.’
‘Some 91 refugees died in the interceptions or are considered missing – in part because the system the Europeans have established causes significant delays in the interceptions. In most cases, merchant ships or even those of aid organizations were in the vicinity. They would have reached the migrant boats more quickly, but they apparently weren’t alerted. Civilian sea rescue organizations have complained for years that they are hardly ever provided with alerts from Frontex.
The revelations present a problem for Frontex head Leggeri. He is already having to answer for his agency’s involvement in the illegal repatriation of migrants in the Aegean Sea that are referred to as pushbacks. Now it appears that Frontex is also bending the law in operations in the central Mediterranean.
An operation in March cast light on how the Libyans operate on the high seas. The captain of the Libyan vessel Fezzan, a coast guard officer, agreed to allow a reporter with DER SPIEGEL to conduct a ride-along on the ship. During the trip, he held a crumpled piece of paper with the coordinates of the boats he was to intercept. He didn’t have any internet access on the ship – indeed, the private sea rescuers are better equipped.’
‘The conditions in the Libyan detention camps are catastrophic. Some are officially under the control of the authorities, but various militias are actually calling the shots. Migrants are a good business for the groups, and refugees from sub-Saharan countries, especially, are imprisoned and extorted by the thousands.’
‘The EU is well aware of the conditions in the Libyan refugee prisons. German diplomats reported "concentration camp-like conditions” in 2017. A February report from the EU’s External Action described widespread "sexual violence, abduction for ransom, forced labor and unlawful killings.” The report states that the perpetrators include "government officials, members of armed groups, smugglers, traffickers and members of criminal gangs.”
Supplies for the business are provided by the Libyan coast guard, which is itself partly made up of militiamen.
In response to a request for comment from DER SPIEGEL, Frontex asserted that it is the agency’s duty to inform all internationally recognized sea rescue coordination centers in the region about refugee boats, including the Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC). The sea rescue coordination center reports to the Libyan Defense Ministry and is financed by the EU.’
‘As such, experts are convinced that even the mere transfer of coordinates by Frontex to the JRCC is in violation of European law. "Frontex officials know that the Libyan coast guard is hauling refugees back to Libya and that people there face torture and inhumane treatment,” says Nora Markard, professor for international public law and international human rights at the University of Münster.
In fact, it appears that Frontex employees are going one step further and sending the coordinates of the refugee boats directly to Libyan officers via WhatsApp. That claim has been made independently by three different members of the Libyan coast guard. DER SPIEGEL is in possession of screenshots indicating that the coast guard is regularly informed – and directly. One captain was sent a photo of a refugee boat taken by a Frontex plane. "This form of direct contact is a clear violation of European law," says legal expert Markard.’
Read the article here.
We cannot utter the phrase ‘European values’ as long as the EU through its subsidiary Frontex is engaging in criminal activities.
There is incredible lack of interest in Frontex almost everywhere in Europe as far as I can see, because refugees are of nobody’s concern.
Refugees should be our concern, whether they come from Sudan, Syria or from Poland.
We don’t need a world government to protect the refugees’ rights, we just need a bit more decency from the EU.