Italy detains rescue ship after confrontation with Libya

At least one person drowned March 2 after a group jumped overboard from a migrant boat as the EU-supported Libyan coast guard fired shots into the water to stop an NGO vessel from carrying out a rescue operation. The rescue vessel Humanity 1 was subsequently seized and ordered detained for 20 days by Italy—over the protests of the German non-governmental organization that operates it, SOS Humanity. Italian authorities invoked the Piantedosi Decree, a new legal provision that imposes a stricter set of requirements for charities that rescue migrants at sea, with potential penalties of stiff fines and impoundment of ships. The Humanity 1 is currently being held at Crotone, a port in Italy's southern region of Calabria.

Last year, at least 8,500 people died on land and sea migration routes around the world, making it the deadliest year since the UN's migration agency, IOM, began keeping track in 2014. This is widely considered an undercount, with many deaths going unrecorded or unconfirmed. The Mediterranean Sea remained the deadliest migration route in the world, with over 3,120 recorded fatalities, bringing the total since 2014 to over 29,000. (TNH, Jurist)

Another 60 migrants dead in Mediterranean incident

Sixty migrants died and 25 survivors were rescued by the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking in a joint operation with the Italian coast guard. The deaths come on the heels of a recent UN announcement that 2023 was the deadliest for migrants making the Mediterranean crossing. (TNH)

Italy diverts another migrant rescue ship

SOS Mediterranee, an international maritime and humanitarian organization, announced March 15 that its affiliated humanitarian ship Ocean Viking rescued 135 people, including a pregnant women and eight children, from an overcrowded boat in the Maltese search-and-rescue sector. It stated that the ship was compelled to navigate to a distant port at Ancona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, with a total of 359 survivors on board. The NGO added that "such prolonged navigation [should] never be imposed on people rescued at sea."

The rescue and subsequent diversion to a Ancona come as Italy escalates its crackdown on migrants.

In May 2023, the Italian government introduced an emergency law aimed at restricting the rights of people who "illegally" arrive on Italy's shores. Human Rights Watch criticized the so-called Cutro decree for its “impact on migrants' rights, including their ability to seek protection, access fair asylum procedures, and enjoy freedom of movement." This law followed a January 2023 decree which instructed search-and-rescue vessels to go to a port mandated by Italy immediately after each rescue, prohibiting them from carrying out multiple consecutive rescue operations. (Jurist)

UN 'shocked' over discovery of Libya mass graves

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed profound concern on March 22 over the discovery of 65 migrant bodies in mass graves in Libya's southwest region. According to the UN migration organization, the migrants may have died while being smuggled across the desert. This grim finding adds to the tally of 3,129 deaths and disappearances recorded along the Mediterranean route by the Missing Migrants Project in 2023. (Jurist)

Italy court dismisses case against migrant rescue ship crews

An Italian court on April 19 dismissed a long-running case against the rescue ship crews of three humanitarian organizations, who previously stood accused of aiding and abetting migrant smugglers while they were helping to rescue thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya and in the Mediterranean Sea.

The court in Trapani, Sicily threw out the charges against all 10 defendants in what has become known as the "Iuventa case," following the recommendation of the country's public prosecutor in February, for lack of evidence and the absence of criminal activity. The thousands of migrants rescued by the crews entered Italy legally, meaning no crime had ever been committed. (Jurist)