A Libyan court has suspended a deal struck with Italy aiming to reduce refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea. The court did not provide any explanation for the decision that comes at a time of a rising number of migrants trying to get to Europe with the arrival of spring. “The Justice Ministry of the Government of National Accord (GNA) confirms that the court is still examining the issue in order pending a ruling, and that no final judgment has been issued,” an official statement said.
The GNA is not recognized by Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament, which supports a competing administration in eastern provinces where Russian-backed General Haftar holds sway. The rival government said that the agreement struck between Tripoli and Italy was “null and void” and declared the GNA had “no legal status in the Libyan state”. The GNA is backed by the United Nations but is failing to regain territory controlled by factions. In the meantime, smugglers are using the ongoing fighting to export migrants for profit. Around 90% of vessels crossing the Mediterranean are launched from Libya.
In 2016, more than 5,000 migrants drowned and this year more than 580 deaths have been reported. Last week, as many as 240 migrants are feared to have perished around 15 kilometers off the Libyan coast after a Spanish aid organization Proactiva Open Arms found five bodies in the water and two capsized boats. The number of those who might have drowned is an estimate based on the boats’ capacity. The two vessels that were found are said to be capable of holding 100 people in normal circumstances but smugglers always dispatch boats overflowing.