The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 3 of Security Council resolution 2437 (2018), in which the Council renewed its request to me to report on the implementation of resolution 2240 (2015), in particular the implementation of paragraphs 7 to 10 of that resolution.
The report covers developments since my previous report of 31 August 2018 (S/2018/807) until 31 August 2019. The information and observations herein are based on submissions by Member States, relevant international and regional bodies and United Nations entities.
II. Smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya
Since the issuance of my previous report, the world continues to face the grim reality that the Mediterranean Sea remains a high-volume thoroughfare for the smuggling of and trafficking in refugees and migrants. In 2019, thousands have again perished or gone missing en route or have been returned to situations of grave harm and uncertainty. In the period from 1 September 2018 to 31 July 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded a total of 82,236 arrivals of refugees and migrants by sea in Europe, a 26 per cent decrease from the same period in 2018, when approximately 111,200 individuals were recorded to have arrived in Europe by sea. For the period from September 2018 to July 2019, 1,485 refugees and migrants were recorded to have died or gone missing at sea on all the Mediterranean routes, including 736 on the so-called central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy and Malta. This represents a decrease in recorded numbers compared with the previous reporting period, when 2,080 individuals were recorded as having died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, including 1,556 on the central Mediterranean route. Those numbers do not account for deaths or missing persons recorded by the Libyan coastguard, however.
Despite the decrease in numbers, there is considerable evidence that conditions for those embarking on the journey have worsened. With 2,130 arrivals and 333 deaths on the route from Libya to Europe recorded in the first half of 2019, one person died in the central Mediterranean Sea for every six people who reached European shores after departing from Libya. By comparison, in 2018, 1 person died for every 14 people who arrived by sea in Europe from Libya, with 15,537 arrivals and 1,132 deaths recorded, meaning that the death rate in the first half of 2019 was more than double that in the previous year. In 2017, at least one death for every 38 arrivals was recorded, with 108,255 arrivals and 2,851 deaths.
The European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean, EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA, estimates that, from 1 September 2018 to 2 August 2019, roughly 10,137 persons were rescued in 153 operations by various vessels in the central Mediterranean Sea, compared with 41,961 individuals in 543 operations in the same period in 2018. According to the operation, the rescue operations and interceptions were largely executed by the Libyan coastguard and navy, which conducted a total of 72 such operations. 1 Vessels of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and merchant vessels are still reported to be conducting search and rescue operations on the high seas off the coast of western Libya, but in reduced numbers compared with previous reporting periods, owing in particular to administrative and legal restrictions imposed by European States. In the first six months of 2019, NGOs rescued close to 400 migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya, compared with 5,200 individuals in the same period in 2018. In the first half of 2019, merchant vessels rescued only one group of about 100 individuals off the Libyan coast and brought them to safety in Europe, compared with over 1,300 people rescued in the first six months of 2018.
There was a steep increase in figures for the eastern and western Mediterranean routes in 2018, when 811 people died or went missing on the western route and 187 on the eastern route, compared with 209 and 56, respectively, the previous year. The western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain currently represents the main point of entry into Europe. While arrivals in Europe from Libya decreased by 86 per cent in 2018, constituting only 11 per cent of the total number of arrivals in 2018 compared with 59 per cent in 2017, there is currently no evidence to suggest that migrants have shifted routes while travelling to Europe, in particular as the nationalities of refugees and migrants travelling along the western and eastern routes differ from those of refugees and migrants using the central Mediterranean route. In Libya, more than half of the departures of migrants during the reporting period have been from the Khums and Sabratah regions. There was also a high probability of departures from, in descending order of activity, the regions of Misratah, Zawiyah and Zuwarah.
During the reporting period, EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA continued efforts to contribute to the implementation of resolution 2240 (2015) and subsequent resolutions. It has undertaken direct operational activities, provided training for and monitoring of the Libyan coastguard and navy and cooperated with a large number of actors. The European Union reported that, in spite of the reduction in migrant flows along the central Mediterranean route, challenges remained, and that the migrant smuggling business model continued to evolve as smugglers adapted their tactics, techniques and procedures in an environment that the renewed instability in Libya was making increasingly challenging. The European Union also observed that the decrease in individuals being smuggled from Libya to Europe might be related to the engagement of those previously involved in migrant smuggling and human trafficking in activities related to the current active conflict.
The European Union, through EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA, reported that migrant smugglers and human traffickers continued primarily to use rubber boats in departures from Libya (62.5 per cent as at July 2019). Migrant smuggling groups in the eastern launching area, from Tripoli to Misratah, are also reported to use fibreglass boats occasionally, while groups in the western launching region, from Tripoli to Abu Kammash, employ wooden boats. The operation has found that the individual fare for travel by inflatable boat ranges from €500 to €1,400, and by wooden boat from €800 to €1,500, a decrease from the price reported in 2017, when fares for travel by wooden boat were assessed as ranging from €1,500 to €3,000. With each rubber boat capable of accommodating up to approximately 120 refugees and migrants, smugglers can recoup up to €168,000 per boat. For wooden boats, which typically hold some 400 people, the figure could be as high as €600,000 per boat.
In terms of tactics, the European Union reports that the majority of boats observed to be smuggling migrants along the central Mediterranean route are filled with insufficient fuel to reach European shores, but enough to reach waters beyond the 12-nautical-mile limit of the territorial sea of Libya. In the reporting period, migrant smugglers appeared to have adapted their tactics to avoid being apprehended by either EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA naval assets, before their temporary suspension in March 2019, or the Libyan coastguard, by leaving refugees and migrants to travel alone, instructing them how to navigate the sea using a Global Positioning System or to head towards oil rigs in the territorial sea of Libya. They then instructed them to use a satellite phone and, upon reaching a certain point outside the territorial sea of Libya, to make a phone call to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome and await rescue.
The European Union, through EUNAVFOR MED operation SOPHIA, notes that a tactic reported to be used by smugglers to get refugees and migrants to reach Europe, especially on the route from Zuwarah to Lampedusa, is to involve fishing vessels. Once outside the territorial sea of Libya, people who embarked in wooden boats on Libyan shores are transferred onto a fishing vessel and the wooden boat is subsequently towed until approximately 40 nautical miles shy of the territorial seas of European States. There, the refugees and migrants are transferred back onto the wooden boat, which then continues onward to Europe, while the fishing vessel returns to Libya.
According to IOM and UNHCR, from 1 September 2018 to 24 July 2019, the Libyan coastguard, Libyan coastal security and Libyan fishermen rescued or intercepted 6,069 refugees and migrants, a substantial reduction from the previous reporting period (1 January to 1 August 2018), during which 12,945 were rescued or intercepted. UNHCR noted an increase in the number of disembarkations in Libya during May and June 2019 compared with previous months, with 2,560 refugees and migrants rescued or intercepted at sea, consistent with the uptick in departures in the spring and summer months in previous years. In comparison with the same period in 2018, however, disembarkations substantially decreased. A total of 5,209 individuals disembarked in Libya in May and June 2018, and 4,656 individuals disembarked in the same months in 2017. UNHCR, in cooperation with the International Medical Corps, continues to provide medical assistance and core relief items to those disembarked in Libya before they are transferred to a detention centre by Libyan authorities. UNHCR reports that those rescued or intercepted at sea by the Libyan coastguard included, in descending order, individuals from the Sudan (37 per cent), Mali (8 per cent), Côte d’Ivoire (7 per cent), Bangladesh (5 per cent) and Somalia (5 per cent). On the basis of available data, adult men represented 78 per cent of the total population rescued or intercepted, while women accounted for 12 per cent and children for 10 per cent.
Organized transnational criminal networks continued to exploit the adverse security situation in Libya to conduct migrant smuggling and human trafficking operations, further fuelling instability and undermining Libyan governance structures. Additionally, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continued to receive credible information of involvement by State and local officials in smuggling and trafficking networks. In its most recent report to the Security Council (S/2018/812 and S/2018/812/Corr.1), the Panel of Experts on Libya reported that Libyan armed groups generated significant revenues by exacting passage taxes and by providing protection services to the smugglers’ convoys against payment. The Panel expressed concern at the attempts of various armed groups to gain legitimacy by ostensibly supporting efforts to combat irregular migration, with the aim of receiving technical and material assistance from foreign actors. It also expressed concern about the impunity in Libya of those who systematically violated the human rights of migrants, notably on account of weak law enforcement and security vacuums.
The six individuals listed on 7 June 2018 by the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya for involvement in the smuggling of migrants continue to be subject to the travel ban and asset freeze imposed by the Council in that resolution. Meanwhile, the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2374 (2017) concerning Mali reported the involvement of armed groups in northern Mali in the smuggling of migrants to Algeria, possibly en route to Libya (see S/2019/137). On 20 December 2018, the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2374 (2017) listed, among others, one individual as subject to travel ban measures under the Mali sanctions regime, on the basis of his involvement in the smuggling and abuse of migrants, including sexual abuse.