After each rescue, we provided medical and psychological assistance to survivors, many of whom were suffering from hypothermia, fuel burns and seasickness. We also treated skin conditions and general body pains, often a result of the dire living conditions and violence people experienced in Libya. Many survivors also reported having been subjected to torture or sexual violence.
In one operation in June, our team rescued dozens of people from a rubber boat that had disintegrated. As many as 30 people drowned, and one woman we brought on board could not be resuscitated.
Our teams frequently experienced long stand-offs while waiting for a place of safety for survivors to disembark, with people spending on average nine days on board. The Italian authorities attempted to implement a policy of “selective disembarkation” in November, initially allowing only those considered vulnerable to leave the ship. However, as the mental health of survivors rapidly deteriorated and the situation became untenable, eventually all those remaining were able to disembark, and the policy was abandoned.
The operational space for search and rescue activities was further restricted at the end of the year, when the Italian authorities started to force NGO ships to dock further north along the Italian coastline, thereby taking them out of the search and rescue zone for extended periods of time, and further reducing the already-insufficient capacity to save lives. This practice was compounded by a new decree, agreed by the Italian Council of Ministers in December, which stipulates that NGOs must request a port and sail to it “without delay” after a rescue, rather than remaining at sea looking for other boats in distress.
MSF continues to denounce the deadly consequences of European migration policies and the absence of safe and legal migration pathways, and calls on the EU and European governments to suspend their support for forced returns to Libya.