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Ships of the EU mission »Irini« do not save migrants

The EU naval mission “Irini” in the Mediterranean, decided a year ago, has not yet rescued any refugees from distress at sea. As a spokesman for the EU Commission said on Wednesday, there were no cases of sea rescue by the ships of the operation that is supposed to enforce the arms embargo against Libya.

In contrast, the previous mission, Sophia, saved around 45,000 migrants from 2015. The mission was named after a child born to a Somali woman on board a German frigate in 2015 after she was rescued.

The EU member states decided on the »Irini« mission on March 31, 2020. The Bundeswehr is also involved in it. However, under pressure from Italy and other member states, the operational area was relocated further east than with Sophia and is now off the beaten track. The argument was that the Sophia ships off Libya’s coast created a pull factor and played into the hands of refugee smugglers.

Numerous experts consider the simple reference to the alleged pull factor to be under-complex. Studies show, for example, that the weather in particular determines how many refugee boats leave the Libyan coast each day. The presence of private sea rescuers seems to play a much smaller role.

Sea rescue is not expressly part of the “Irini” mandate. Like all ships at sea, however, the forces of the EU mission are also obliged to provide assistance to people in distress. “When we see a ship in distress, we can’t really turn our backs on it,” said an EU representative recently. “But it didn’t happen in the first year.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has so far registered 301 deaths on the route.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR criticizede the priorities of Europeans this week in exceptionally sharp words. Special envoy Vincent Cochetel wrote on Twitter that “Irini” does not prevent weapons from reaching Libya or human trafficking. All of these ships “could save lives in the Mediterranean if it were their mandate and the priority of the EU member states.”

Europe is blocking private sea rescuers

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized in September that sea rescue must be part of a “humane” EU migration policy. It is compulsory and not optional. However, a proposal by the Commission to reform migration policy did not contain any plans to create a European organized sea rescue service in the Mediterranean.

On the contrary: Italian and Maltese coast guards often delay rescues, the ships of private sea rescuers are arrested in the ports – with reference to alleged technical defects. Instead, the EU is funding the Libyan Coast Guard, which drags refugees back to Libya after they have been rescued. Once there, people are often locked up, enslaved, tortured, blackmailed or shot again after their arrival.

Greens are calling for EU funding for private sea rescuers

“It is out of the question that there will be a sea rescue mission unanimously agreed by the EU states,” said Green MP Erik Marquardt of the AFP news agency. However, with reference to a legal opinion commissioned by him, Marquardt believes it is possible that the Commission could finance aid organizations operating sea rescue even against the will of the member states. Because the commission can decide for itself about the allocation of funds in humanitarian crises, he said. “And that is, without a doubt, such a crisis in Libya and in the central Mediterranean.”

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