British attention has been solely concentrated on the small boats crossing the English Channel but every year, thousands of migrants and refugees depart from Libya, attempting to reach Europe in unseaworthy vessels. Last year, Frontex detections of what it calls “illegal border crossings” were at their highest since 2017, and attempts from January to May this year were 15 percent higher than during the same period in 2021, with the journeys across the Mediterranean becoming increasingly fatal, and around half being intercepted by authorities who return the refugees and migrants to Libya.
Ina Fischer, the spokesperson for Alarm Phone, said, “In our opinion - and we have years of experience with them - [Rescue Coordination Centre] RCC Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta are doing all to prevent rescue operations and arrivals in Malta, backed up by the government.”
In January 2022, the Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council for Europe also expressed concern about the “reported deterioration in Malta’s approach to search and rescue in recent years” and the “numerous reports of delays and non-response by its Rescue Coordination Centre to distress calls ” as well as “instructions given to commercial ships to return migrants to Libya”.
For many of the survivors on board the ship, being returned to Libya is a fate worse than death. “Whatever happens to me, even if we die, we don’t want to go back to Libya,” explained an unaccompanied minor from Eritrea. “We would prefer to drown at sea.”