A boat carrying approximately 500 migrants, including pregnant women and a newborn baby, has gone missing in the central Mediterranean. The boat was adrift at sea without a working engine approximately 320 km north of the Libyan port of Benghazi. Two charities, Alarm Phone and Italian NGO Emergency, are conducting search and rescue operations. Earlier in the week, the Italian Coast Guard reported that it had rescued 423 and 671 migrants in separate sorties in Italian search and rescue waters. The migrants on board the missing boat have not been found.
German charity SOS Humanity reported that 27 migrants were picked up at sea and forcibly returned to Libya. The tanker allegedly involved belongs to Greek company Performance Shipping DS2.F, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ill-treatment of migrants is widespread in Libya, and international humanitarian law prohibits the forcible return of migrants to countries where they risk serious ill-treatment. European governments are taking an increasingly tough stance on migration, including Italy, which is facing a surge in arrivals by sea. So far this year, there have been more than 47,000 landings, compared to around 18,000 in the same period in 2020.
The search and rescue operations are ongoing, and Emergency has suggested that the migrants may have been picked up by another boat or repaired their engine and resumed sailing towards Sicily. The situation remains uncertain, but the loss of the boat and it’s passengers highlights the dangers and ongoing tragedies faced by refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The missing boat and its passengers are just one example of the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Humanitarian organizations continue to provide search and rescue operations, but more needs to be done to address the root causes of the issue and ensure safe pathways for those seeking refuge. The European Union has come under criticism for its lack of cohesive policy on migration and must work towards a more comprehensive approach to address this complex issue.