Copyright What is safe haven

Libya is not a “safe place” for refugees rescued from distress at sea

09.07.2019 – 10:38

dpa fact check

Berlin (ots)

When European aid organizations save migrants in the Mediterranean from drowning, they usually bring them to an EU country. On many pages in the net the demand can be read that the rescued should better be brought to a nearby port in Libya - instead of taking the much longer route to Italy or Malta.

EVALUATION: Libya is not a safe state for international experts. The United Nations sees refugees there at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, forced labor and homicide.

FACTS: According to the legal experts of the Scientific Services of the Bundestag, people in distress at sea who “cannot get to safety on their own and are lost at sea” - regardless of whether on the open sea or in coastal waters (http: // dpaq .de / 0Mb4X).

All ships that discover people in distress are obliged to rescue them - including rescue ships such as the "Sea-Watch 3". Its German captain rescued dozens of migrants in international waters off Libya at the end of June 2019 and drove the ship to the port of Lampedusa despite a ban by the Italian government.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), rescued persons should be brought to a safe place. The IMO resolution MSC.167 (78) ( regulates when a port is considered to be “safe”. Accordingly, it is “a place where the lives of the survivors are no longer in danger and where their basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met”. The IMO expressly states that a rescue ship itself is not necessarily to be regarded as a safe place.

The IMO regulates the handling of refugees separately in the resolution: This is to avoid bringing asylum seekers and refugees rescued from distress at sea to areas "in which the life and freedom of those who pretend to have a well-founded fear of persecution, would be in danger ».

According to a UN report on the human rights situation in Libya from December 2018, refugees and migrants in the country are generally exposed to the risk of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, forced labor and death ( The World Criminal Court in The Hague is investigating alleged crimes in the refugee camps.

In the legal magazine “Legal Tribune Online” the Hamburg international law expert Valentin Schatz wrote at the beginning of July 2019: In the case of the Sea-Watch 3, Libya offered the port of Tripoli as a safe place. "There is no question that Libya, because of the humanitarian situation there, is by no means a safe place for European ships." (

The Federal Government speaks of “partially inhumane conditions” and economic exploitation of refugees in so-called “Detention Centers” ( Sea-Watch does not consider Libyan ports to be safe (

At the beginning of July 2019, around two air strikes hit a refugee camp east of the capital Tripoli. According to the UN Emergency Aid Office Ocha (, dozens of people were killed and many more injured. According to Ocha, around 3800 migrants are being held against their will in camps in and around Tripoli. For months there has been heavy fighting over the capital in the country of civil war.

A state like Italy or Malta can only deny access to its ports if the ship poses "a serious and unacceptable threat" to it. However, the people on board must be safe (

According to figures from the UN migration authority IOM, almost 2,800 refugees arrived in Italian ports in 2019 by the beginning of July, and around 1,300 in Malta. 426 people died on the way via the central Mediterranean route (

When people are in distress, they need to be rescued. This obligation applies to state and private ships and, according to an analysis by the Bundestag service, results from the tradition of seafaring and unwritten customary international law. International law of the sea conventions and resolutions also regulate sea rescue.

Rescuers are not allowed to draw attention to themselves. But there is criticism that their use is being exploited by gangs of smugglers and creating incentives to flee to Europe because it reduces the risk of refugees crossing the country.



IMO for rescue at sea:

IMO resolution MSC.167 (78) on the treatment of persons rescued at sea: __blob = publicationFile & v = 1

Scientific services of the Bundestag on international, European and criminal law aspects of sea rescue (July 2017, especially from p. 6): pdf-data.pdf)

Scientific services of the Bundestag on international law aspects of sea rescue (July 2017):

Scientific services of the Bundestag on the obligation to rescue at sea (November 2017):

Report of the UN Assistance Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on the human rights situation of migrants and refugees (December 2018):

Federal government on the human rights situation in Libya (see question 22):

UN Emergency Relief Office Ocha about attack:

UN Migration Agency IOM on Mediterranean Refugees 2019 until July 3rd: -2019-deaths-reach-681

Sea-Watch about "safe haven" in Libya: sucht-anlandung-43-geretteten-weltfluechtlingstag/

International law expert Schatz about Sea-Watch 3:

Article on «» with allegations against Sea-Watch 3 (archived): was-already-assigned-to-a-port-in-libya-on-june-13-10078248 /

Facebook account “Liberated view” with accusation against Sea-Watch 3: (archived:


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