It may be trivial, but it was not because of the sea.
The creation of no-assistance zones as a result of institutional policies and interventions in the central Mediterranean; the criminalisation and repression of people on the move in Sicily, Libya and Tunisia; the shipwreck of 14 December.
Carcass of an iron boat next to the area of Cala Pisana, Lampedusa.
Arrivals in Lampedusa and the repression in Sicily, Libya and Tunisia.
According to official communications of the CRI from 24 December to 1 January 2024, 2,839 migrants were received at the Lampedusa hotspot managed by the Italian Red Cross [...] The countries of origin in the majority were almost 60%: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Bangladesh [...]. All the landings took place in operations led by the Guardia di Finanza, the Coast Guard and Frontex.
Between the 25th and the 27th of December, about 800 people landed in Lampedusa. Nevertheless, the seaEye4, with 109 people on board, was assigned to Brindisi while the OceanViking to the port of Bari with 244 people on board. The sea watch5, on the night of 25 December and during its first mission, transshipped two rubber dinghies with a total of 118 people on board, all of whom landed in Marina di Carrara on 28 December.
In one of the landings that took place in Lampedusa on 27 December, among the 132 people was a body pierced by gunshots and 3 wounded, testifying to the continuous interceptions 'at any cost' made by Libyan and Tunisian authorities. On the night of the 25th December, an iron boat with 96 people on board was intercepted by the Tunisian National Guard and dragged in a manner not safe from capsizing. In the same days, journalist Scandura's monitoring highlighted the long patrols conducted by the Tunisian National Guard in the Sfax Lampedusa route. The Tunisian authorities intensified their controls at sea: on 5 January 13 operations intercepted 188 people mainly from sub-Saharan countries; 5 Tunisians were arrested, 10 iron boats and 8 engines seized. According to sources on the ground, forced deportations to centres in southern Tunisian cities or to border territories with Algeria and Libya continue.
From the Refugees in Lybia X account:
Between 29 Dec 2023 and 1st of Jan 2024, The stability support apparatus in coordination with the DCIM conduct violent raids on migrants' and refugees' homes in Tripoli and several outskirts, street collection and arbitrarily detention of people at random checkpoints. Over 2.000 people have been brought to detention centres like Ainzara, Tarik Al-Sikka and Abu-Salim and many more unofficial detentions. The DCIM guards at each detention centre is asking 500€ for the release of each person.
At the time of writing, five people are inside the hotspot, probably for reasons related to investigations by the mobile squad or the immigration office. As repeatedly denounced, the hotspot is a multifunctional place where, along with the distribution of basic necessities as emphasised by the President of the CRI during his visit on 18 December, investigations are conducted to 'dismantle' the causes of illegal migration. The assignment of house arrest inside the contrada Imbriacola facility is now common practice. In continuity with the criminalising approach, 3 people of Egyptian origin were arrested in Pozzallo on charges of smuggling; since the beginning of 2023, in the fight against the phenomenon of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, 24 traffickers of human beings have been apprehended in the Ragusa area alone.
The three people arrested in Pozzallo were part of the 109 people whose dangerous situation AlarmPhone publicly announced at around 12.30 p.m. on 30 December. The Maltese and Italian authorities had received the communication of the boat with engine failure at around 4.00am the same day. The intervention of the Guardia di Finanza ended on the morning of 31 December, with the landing in the Sicilian port.
The shipwreck between the 14th and the 15th of December.
According to reports on X(former Twitter) profile of Scandura and on Radio Radicale: between 14 and 15 December, 61 people went missing after a shipwreck that occurred about 25 miles from Zwara, 26 of whom were recovered by the tug VosTriton (for more detailed information on the VosTriton intervention). The survivors were illegally returned to Tripoli where they were imprisoned in the notorious Tariq al-sekka detention centre.
Following the AlarmPhone's public communication about the distress case, as many as three Frontex air missions took turns since the late afternoon of the 14th december, flying over the area of the shipwreck.
In the same area and at the same time as the tug VosTriton was present, there was also the tug AssoTrenta operating from another offshore platform north of the Libyan coast. From 19:26 on 14 December 2023, the ITMRCC of the Italian Coast Guard transmitted an SOS - on behalf of the Libyan Coast Guard - via InMarSAT and via Navtex for the same case.
As AlarmPhone stated: the absence of rescue boats patrolling the crossing that day was no accident. instead it is one of the tangible consequences of practices and policies implemented by governments and institutions in the central Mediterranean. A few days earlier, in fact, MSF's Geo Barents boat was present in the same area before setting off in the direction of Genoa, the port to which it was assigned after rescuing 36 people (less than 10% of the ship's capacity). Only 12 hours earlier, however, the OceanViking was also present in the same area before being sent to Bari. Areas where intervention at sea is absent, slow or carried out by inadequate vessels is something that state actors contribute to.
Image from Scandura's X (Twitter) profile
Despite their direct and indirect involvement, no actor - from the Italian Coast Guard to Frontex - has issued any official communication on the matter. In a superficial and hypocritical statement by Frontex (with condolences for the families), the cause of the disappearance of 61 people at sea is attributed to bad weather.
As Vassallo Paleologo writes concerning the dynamics around the shipwreck:
it is also necessary to hide the responsibilities for the massacres that continue to occur [...] That is why there are no more annual reports and press releases on the search and rescue activities carried out, even in international waters, under the coordination of the Italian authorities, and there is an attempt in this way to hide the rescue methods, the collective rejections with the return of fugitives to Libyan jailers, the shipwrecks in areas where the Libyan and Tunisian authorities do not guarantee rescue, but only practice, when they succeed, interceptions in international waters. Interceptions disguised as rescue operations, but aimed at capturing the shipwrecked.
According to IOM data, 2797 people died and disappeared in the Mediterranean in 2023.
Iron boat carcass arounf the area of Cala Stretta, Lampedusa.