The IRC is calling on the EU and its member states to ensure a full, transparent investigation into last month’s deadly shipwreck - specifically the role of EU member states, as well as the involvement of Frontex.
The EU and its member states need to urgently expand safe, regular routes for people on the move, including committing to resettle at least 44,000 refugees in 2024.
The EU and its states must shift their focus from deterring people from reaching Europe, to safeguarding them along their journeys.
Brussels, Belgium, 13 July 2023 — One month since the devastating shipwreck off the Greek coast, which is likely to have claimed the lives of more than 500 people, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is continuing to call for the EU to ensure a full, transparent investigation into the incident.
So far, there have been no moves to launch such an investigation into the shipwreck - one of the deadliest on record in the Mediterranean Sea - despite calls to do so from NGOs and members of the European Parliament.
We’re concerned that disasters like this horrific shipwreck are becoming increasingly normalised. In the month since this disaster, there have been at least 22 other incidents in the Central Mediterranean (including bodies washing ashore the Libyan coast) with more than 50 people dead or missing, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
At the same time, in the absence of internal agreement on how to better share responsibility for new arrivals, European leaders are pursuing new migration agreements with non-EU countries. These deals are disproportionately focused on deterring refugees and other migrants from Europe, rather than supporting vulnerable people on the move and addressing the root causes behind their displacement. They risk further undermining people’s rights, exposing them to abuse and exploitation, and driving them to risk their lives on even more dangerous routes.
The IRC is working to support people on the move along the Central Mediterranean Route, in Libya and Italy, as well as in nearby Greece, and has witnessed first-hand the desperate situation faced by people forced onto these deadly journeys. Our teams in Libya provide emergency medical and protection services to all survivors who have been returned from sea.
Harlem Desir, IRC Senior Vice President, Europe, said:
“It’s deeply shameful that hundreds have perished in one of the deadliest ever shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea, yet - a month on - we have yet to see a full, transparent investigation into the incident. It’s time for concrete steps towards accountability, and to finally put an end to these needless and avoidable deaths. Rather than focusing on stopping people from reaching its territory, we urge the EU to shift its efforts towards improving rights and conditions for people on the move, better supporting state-led search and rescue operations, and expanding safe routes to Europe so people are not forced to risk their lives on these treacherous journeys in the first place.”
Fnan*, a 26-year-old man from Eritrea, was among those who attempted to cross from Libya towards Europe last month, but his boat was intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard and he was sent back to the country. He said:
“I was scared when they took us from our boat in the middle of the sea, but when I knew we were going back to Libya, I remembered all the bad things that happened to me in the detention centre, so I jumped in the water… I can’t go back there.”
(*name changed for anonymity)
Tom Garofalo, IRC Libya Country Director, said:
“The hundreds of people who perished in this shipwreck boarded the boat in Libya - a country they were desperate to leave, even if it meant risking their lives on an unseaworthy vessel. Libya is not a safe country for migrants and people seeking protection, who know each day they could be abducted, arbitrarily detained or subjected to violence and abuse.
“The EU’s approach, rooted in deterring people from reaching Europe at any cost, is not working - neither for states on the EU’s southern borders, nor for the thousands who have died or gone missing as a direct result of these cruel policies. Doubling down on this approach by making more deals with non-EU countries will only serve to put people at greater risk, driving them onto ever more dangerous routes in search of protection. The EU’s approach should be firmly rooted in upholding people’s fundamental rights. If it fails to achieve this, the Mediterranean will continue to be a graveyard for people seeking protection.”
The EU’s border agency, Frontex, has launched a ‘serious incident report’ to identify potential human rights violations. This enables it to gather all details surrounding the incident, which can be shared with other investigative bodies. Frontex does not itself have the ability to investigate incidents.
The Greek government has opened an investigation, led by the general prosecutor, but serious concerns have been raised about its independence and transparency.
The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the Commission does not have the competence to launch an investigation and that this is the responsibility of member states.
The IRC on the Central Mediterranean Route
Present in Libya since August 2016, the IRC provides life-saving health and protection services, supports wider health system strengthening efforts, and builds the capacity of Libyan youth in peacebuilding and governance initiatives. In 2022 so far, the IRC has carried out 49 emergency responses to boats intercepted at sea and returned to Libyan shores, supporting more than 3,800 people, including 190 women and 228 children.
IRC has been present in Italy since 2017 providing refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants with access to information, protection, legal assistance, and psycho-social support while also working on early identification of trafficking survivors.