A refugee aid group has accused a Libyan coastguard of leaving three people, including a woman and her child, to drown in the Mediterranean after intercepting a boat carrying some 160 migrants.
Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish rescue group, said it rescued one woman alive on Tuesday amid the drifting wreckage of a boat some 144 kilometres from the Libyan coast; the other woman and toddler were found dead.
NGO head Oscar Camos said that the two women and the toddler had refused to board the Libyan vessels with the rest of the intercepted group, for fear of repercussions and torture, and were abandoned in the sea after the coastguard destroyed their boat.
“This is the direct consequence of contracting armed militias to make the rest of Europe believe that Libya is a state, a government and a safe country. The blame for this crime falls on Matteo Salvini’s policies,” Camps said in a statement, referring to Italy’s far-right interior minister who has taken a strong stance against migrant arrivals and campaigned for their deportation to Libya.
The Libyan coastguards have denied the accusations, stating that all personnel carried out their mission professionally as per internationals standards.
Proactiva Open Arms said on yesterday that it was taking the female survivor to Spain for her safety, adding that they feared “for the protection of the surviving woman and her complete freedom to testify”.
According to the UN’s migration agency, 1,443 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year, up to 15 July. Italy’s new populist government has vowed to tackle the migration crisis, and has given aid to Libyan authorities to round up refugees and prevent them from travelling to Europe, despite detained migrants at risk of beatings, abuse, rape and slavery.
Last weekend, some 450 migrants were rescued from an overcrowded ship near the coast of the Italian island of Linosa, but were denied entry into Italy by Salvini, who according to anonymous sources, appealed to other parties to take them in.
“The migrants could be distributed immediately among European countries, or Italy would contact Libya to send them back to where they came from,” the source said. “Italy is no longer willingly to take on, alone, a problem that affects all European countries.”
According to international law, refugees cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and EU have acknowledged that Libya is not safe.
However, earlier this week, Salvini asked EU interior ministers to declare Libya a place of safety where migrants can be taken after they are picked up at sea. According to Salvini, German, Austrian and French ministers agreed it could be done.