Monday 24 July 2017

'Passengers jumped off the boats into the sea in fear' – Coastguards accused of threatening lives of those rescued in Mediterranean Sea

In this photo released by Proactiva Open Arms NGO on Friday, March 24, 2017 a sunken rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, during a search and rescue operation by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP)
In this photo released by Proactiva Open Arms NGO on Friday, March 24, 2017 a sunken rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, during a search and rescue operation by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP)

Daniel O'Connor

Libyan coastguards have been accused of threatening the lives of people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Médecins Sans Frontiéres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

A team from MSF and SOS Méditerranée were reportedly in the middle of assisting passengers from boats in distress when a Libyan coastguard vessel approached and stepped into one of the boats.

"Two Libyan coastguards, wearing uniforms and armed, stepped onto one of the rubber boats. They took phones, money and other belongings from the passengers,"  says Annemarie Loof of MSF.

The Libyan coastguard then fired gunshots from a mounted weapon into the air, causing mass panic amongst those being rescued.

"People became panicked and felt threatened. The passengers were terrified from the aggressive conduct of the Libyan coastguards," Loof added.

"Many passengers – who had luckily already received lifejackets before the shooting began – jumped off the boats into the sea in fear. Our teams pulled 67 people out of the water as gunshots were fired in the air. It’s a miracle that no one drowned or was injured."

The teams of MSF and SOS Méditerrannée were still brought over 1,000 people to safety on board the Aquarius ship, including a two-week-old baby, despite the chaos.

One passenger brought on board told SOS Mediterannée that he would have “preferred to die” than be taken by the Libyan coastguard.

"When the Libyans pointed their weapons at us, asking us to give them all our money and cell phones and telling us to jump in the water, we did what they said and many of us jumped into the water," the survivor said.

"I was not afraid, I preferred to die at sea rather than being repressed and to die in Libya."

MSF have since condemned the Italian and European authorities for providing support and training to Libyan coast guards, saying it is "further endangering people’s lives."

The charity has previously condemned Libya’s treatment of migrants, tweeting "Libya is currently a lawless state where migrants are starved, beaten and forced into slavery" earlier this year.

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