Friday, April 15, 2011

IMA condemns NATO naval forces in Mediterranean for ignoring Libyan refugee distress call

For leaving 72 Libyan refugees to die at sea

The International Migrants Alliance (IMA), a global alliance of grassroots migrant organizations and their allied and support groups, condemn in the strongest terms the criminal abandonment by the NATO naval forces and other Western coast guards of 72 Libyan refugees adrift on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a Council of Europe inquiry, around 5pm (GMT) of March 27 2011, a distress call was sent via satellite phone alerting coast guards about 72 Libyan refugees who left Tripoli early morning of the same day and were at that time drifting at the Mediterranean. While a helicopter was reportedly sent to drop food supplies to the refugees, not one ship or any other rescue mission was reportedly made. On April 2, on its seventh day in sea, people have started to die, and on April 10, the boat with only 11 people left eventually landed in Zitlan, Libya. Two out of the 11 died shortly after.

Although the area by which the boat was located is within the military zone controlled by NATO, and despite the fact that it had prior knowledge of the refugees’ condition, no rescue operation was carried out.

This 15-day Mediterranean ordeal of the 72 Libyan refugees could have been resolved if only the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces and Western coast guards units in the area were quick to respond, assist and rescue them. There were several occasions and opportunities in which assistance, attention and rescue could have been given yet apparently none were taken.

It is deplorable for such a strong institution like the NATO to abandon any possible support or assistance that can be easily extended to people in need like the 72 Libyan refugees. It is understandable that people will try to flee Libya, a country stricken with political and military conflict, and the likes of NATO and many governments in Europe should be aware of this reality and plan sufficient assistance measures.

This incident also begs the questions on the real objectives of NATO in intervening militarily in Libya and against Qaddafi. If the intent was really to “protect civilians” from human right violation by the Libyan armed forces, then why were the 72 drifting Libyan civilians needing rescue abandoned by NATO to their own terrible fate? And if the UN and NATO were so sincere about the civilian costs of war, then why were they not ready for the predictable influx of political refugees on their shores? What has happened speaks volumes on the hypocrisy of UN-backed “humanitarian missions,” which are often used as convenient smokescreens for US and NATO to make imperialist incursions in Third World countries.

Anyone in distress at sea, regardless of their race or status, should be given immediate attention. The IMA welcomes the resolution calling on European nations to take responsibility when states like Libya refuse or is unable to conduct actions like search and rescue.

According to a Europe-based human rights watchdog, 1,500 people died at sea trying to reach Europe in 2011.

For reference:
Eni Lestari, chairperson
(852) 9608 1475

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