Libyan Eastern Forces Free 18 Fishermen Detained Since September

TRIPOLI, Dec 19, 2020:: Eighteen fishermen held by Libyan forces for more than three months have been released, with Italy’s prime minister and the head of foreign affairs headed to Benghazi to bring them back. The group of sailors – eight from Italy, six from Tunisia, two from Indonesia and two from Senegal – had been detained since September 1 for allegedly operating in Libya’s territorial waters – a claim that Italy has disputed. “Our fishermen are free,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wished the group a “good return home”.

Di Maio praised the work of Aise, the Italian secret service dedicated to missions abroad, for their efforts in returning the fishermen. “The government continues to firmly support Libya’s process of stabilisation,” he said on Facebook, adding that he had conveyed the same message during a meeting on Thursday with Khalifa Haftar, the renegade military commander and head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). The prolonged imprisonment of the group had become a political embarrassment for Italy’s government, with critics accusing ministers of failing to stand up to Haftar.

It was not immediately clear what concessions, if any, Italy had made to win their release. The southern Mediterranean fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005 when former ruler Muammar Gaddafi unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles (137km) offshore from 12 nautical miles (22km). Haftar is trying to enforce this. Rome has never recognised the revised boundary. Italian officials said in October that Haftar had demanded the release of four Libyans who were arrested in Sicily in 2015, and subsequently sentenced to up to 30 years in jail on the charge of organising a migrant crossing that resulted in multiple deaths.

Italy is allied with Haftar’s rival – the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, which is headed by Fayez al-Sarraj. The two opposing camps run parallel administrations in the east and west of Libya, following the toppling of Gaddafi. However, Rome has sought to work with both administrations to try to slow the flow of undocumented migrants to Italy.

Meanwhile, some residents of the southern town of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, where some of the fishermen are from, were in a celebratory mood. “The news this morning brought me back to life after three months of darkness and desperation”, Rosetta Incargiola, the mother of one of the fishermen, told the Italian news agency Ansa. “I can’t wait to hug my son again,” she said.

Invisible Shipwrecks Belie Falling Migrant Deaths: UN

TRIPOLI, Dec 19, 2020:: The number of deaths recorded on migratory routes fell this year, although COVID-19 difficulties and so-called “invisible shipwrecks” mean the real number is probably much higher, officials at the United Nations migration agency said. The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project showed 3,174 deaths compared with 5,327 in 2019. “People continue to lose their lives on irregular migration journeys despite the extensive travel restrictions in 2020, showing the need for more safe, legal migration options,” Frank Laczko, director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, which hosts the Missing Migrants Project, said on Friday.

“Behind every one of these figures is a life lost needlessly, and a family who must mourn the person lost.” Crucially, the data does not include losses from at least 15 so-called “invisible shipwrecks” in the Mediterranean – events that cannot officially be corroborated because the vessels cannot be located and information is insufficient. If officials learn about them at all, it is often through bereaved family members. Sometimes, the only indication is floating bodies. In a poignant indication of the problem, the bodies of four children washed up on the shores of Libya this week from a boat believed to be carrying North and West African migrants and refugees.

“Incidents like this happen way too often. These are the ones we know about and the number of lives lost on the crossing are much higher (than reported),” said the IOM’s Safa Msehli. The report said 729 deaths had been confirmed in the central Mediterranean in 2020. Msehli estimated that at least 600 more people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year in unrecorded incidents. “There are gaps, serious life-threatening gaps in the monitoring of these routes,” IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon said, calling on governments to step up search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

The IOM data also showed an increase in deaths on some routes, such as the journey to Spain’s Canary Islands, where 593 deaths were recorded compared with 210 last year. More migrant losses were also recorded in South America, with many of the 104 recorded from Venezuela.