Warsaw and other Polish cities have seen mass protests since the country's Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that will virtually end legal abortion. Tens of thousands of protesters—the majority of them women—have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the country, in defiance of pandemic restrictions harshly limiting the size of gatherings. Their anger has been directed against the ruling conservative Law & Justice Party (PiS) and the Catholic church, which are seen as being behind the decision. Protesters have disrupted services and sprayed graffiti on the walls of Warsaw churches. On Oct. 27, clashes broke out in a number of cities between the demonstrators and far-right groups ostensibly organized to defend churches. Two women were also injured that day when a car drove through a group of protesters who were blocking a road in Warsaw.
Italian authorities detained another NGO-operated search-and-rescue vessel on July 22—the fourth to have fallen foul of "technical irregularities" since the beginning of the pandemic. The move fits a pattern of authorities using administrative procedures to block the work of search-and-rescue NGOs in the central Mediterranean, according to human rights groups. At the end of June, the Ocean Viking, operated by NGO Onboard SOS Mediterranee, rescued 180 asylum-seekers and migrants who had departed from Libya. Authorities in Italy and Malta refused to assign the ship a safe harbor for eight days, leading to a severe deterioration in the mental health conditions of those on board, manifesting in suicide attempts and fights. After the rescued people finally disembarked in Sicily, the Ocean Viking observed a 14-day quarantine before it was inspected and impounded.
Migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa have been left stranded on the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta closed their ports due to public health reasons amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Alarm Phone, which acts as a hotline for refugees and migrants in distress on the Mediterranean, said April 13 that it hadn't heard from one of three boats that requested assistance in Malta's search-and-rescue zone. When Alarm Phone reached out to the Maltese authorities, they were frequently placed on hold or the line disconnected, according to the hotline's Maurice Stierl.
Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who is the de facto strongman of Libya's east, was invited aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Jan 11, days after the carrier was re-deployed from off Syria. Haftar met with Russian officers on the ship and spoke via video-link with Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. "They discussed pressing issues in the fight against international terrorist groups in the Middle East," Russian media repoted the ministry saying. A Russian embrace of Haftar, who is waging his own war against Islamist militias in the east, would be complicated by the fact that he opposes the UN-backed "official" Libyan government based in Tripoli. (Reuters, Jan. 11)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Sept. 25 announced that the flow of refugees into Europe shows no signs of easing or stopping, as approximately 8,000 refugees a day seek to enter Europe. Amin Awad, the regional refugee coordinator for then UNHCR stated that problems now facing governments may turn out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Awad stated that the UN is planning for the potential displacement of 500,000 people from the Iraqi city of Mosul if Iraqi forces fight to recapture the city from Islamic State. Also that day, the UNHCR reported about the high number of migrants entering Europe along the Serbian-Croatian border. More than 50,000 migrants have entered through the town of Tovarnik, Croatia since mid-September.
The director of the Euro-Mid Observer For Human Rights said Sept. 16 that eight Palestinian migrants from Gaza survived a devastating shipwreck near Malta, with dozens feared dead. "We have search teams in Malta, Italy, and Greece trying to get information on those Palestinians," Rami Abdo told Ma'an News Agency. According to survivors of the Sept. 14 shipwreck, the Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian, and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on Sept. 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe. The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them. When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized, the survivors told the maritime organization.
A Palestinian group in Syria said Oct. 13 that over 200 Palestinians were aboard a boat which capsized off Malta's coast two days earlier. The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria said that at least 200 Palestinian refugees fleeing conflict in the country were aboard the boat, which left the Libyan port of Zwara on Oct. 10. Some 70 Palestinian refugees survived the shipwreck and are now in Malta, with the rest unaccounted for, the action group said. The boat was carrying up to 400 migrants, mostly Syrians. At least 33 people perished after the boat sank, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead, prompting Malta to warn that the Mediterranean is becoming "a cemetery."