EU's pol­icy of help­ing Libya in­ter­cept mi­grants is 'in­hu­man', says UN

The Guardian Australia - - World News -

The EU pol­icy of help­ing Libyan au­thor­i­ties in­ter­cept peo­ple try­ing to cross the Mediter­ranean and re­turn them to pris­ons is “in­hu­man”, the UN has said.

“The suf­fer­ing of mi­grants de­tained in Libya is an out­rage to the con­science of hu­man­ity,” said the UN hu­man rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein, in a state­ment is­sued on Tues­day. “The Euro­pean Union’s pol­icy of as­sist­ing the Libyan coast­guard to in­ter­cept and re­turn mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean [is] in­hu­man.”

Chaos-rid­den Libya has long been a ma­jor tran­sit hub for peo­ple try­ing to reach Europe. Many have fallen prey to se­ri­ous abuse in the coun­try at the hands of traf­fick­ers and oth­ers.

Hus­sein said “the de­ten­tion sys­tem for mi­grants in Libya is bro­ken be­yond re­pair”.

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can­not con­tinue to turn a blind eye to the unimag­in­able hor­rors en­dured by mi­grants in Libya, and pre­tend that the sit­u­a­tion can be reme­died only by im­prov­ing con­di­tions in de­ten­tion,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Libya’s de­part­ment of com­bat­ing il­le­gal mi­gra­tion (DCIM), 19,900 peo­ple were be­ing held in fa­cil­i­ties un­der its con­trol in early Novem­ber, up from about 7,000 in mid-Septem­ber.

The in­crease came af­ter au­thor­i­ties de­tained thou­sands of peo­ple pre­vi­ously held by smug­glers in Libya’s traf­fick­ing hub Sabratha, west of Tripoli.

Hus­sein said UN staff mem­bers had vis­ited four DCIM fa­cil­i­ties ear­lier this month and were shocked by what they saw. “[There were] thou­sands of ema­ci­ated and trau­ma­tised men, women and chil­dren piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no ac­cess to the most ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, and stripped of their hu­man dig­nity,” he said.

Peo­ple in­clud­ing chil­dren de­scribed hor­rific beat­ings by guards at de­ten­tion cen­tres, while many women said they faced rape and other sex­ual vi­o­lence at the hands of smug­glers and guards.

One woman told UN staff she was gang-raped by three men, in­clud­ing a DCIM guard, while an­other woman said four armed men had gang-raped her dur­ing her jour­ney, when she was preg­nant.

“I bled pro­fusely, and I think I lost the baby. I haven’t seen a doc­tor yet,” she said.

The UN urged Libyan au­thor­i­ties to take con­crete steps to halt vi­o­la­tions and abuses in the de­ten­tion cen­tres, and stop de­tain­ing mi­grants.

“The in­creas­ing in­ter­ven­tions of the EU and its mem­ber states have done noth­ing so far to re­duce the level of abuses suf­fered by mi­grants,” Hus­sein said, adding that in­stead, there ap­peared to be a “fast de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in their sit­u­a­tion in Libya”.

Zeid’s com­ments came af­ter min­is­ters from 13 Euro­pean and African coun­tries pledged on Mon­day to act to ease the cri­sis around the Mediter­ranean, es­pe­cially to help im­prove con­di­tions for peo­ple held in Libya.

At a meet­ing in Bern of the con­tact group on the cri­sis along the cen­tral Mediter­ranean mi­gra­tion route, min­is­ters re­it­er­ated a pledge to strengthen Libya’s coast­guard.

Italy, with the sup­port of the EU, has since the sum­mer been train­ing the Libyan coast­guard to in­ter­cept boats as part of a con­tro­ver­sial deal that has re­sulted in ar­rivals to Italy fall­ing by nearly 70% since July.

Re­act­ing to Hus­sein’s charges, an EU spokesper­son said Brus­sels was fund­ing UN agen­cies on the ground in Libya that were work­ing to pro­tect peo­ple.

“We be­lieve that the de­ten­tion cen­tres in Libya must be closed. The sit­u­a­tion in these camps is un­ac­cept­able,” the spokesper­son said in a state­ment.

The EU wanted res­cued peo­ple to be brought to “re­cep­tion cen­tres that meet in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian stan­dards”, they said, while at the same time im­prov­ing the Libyan coast­guard’s ca­pac­ity to pre­vent deaths at sea.

But the UN hu­man rights of­fice crit­i­cised Euro­pean coun­tries for ig­nor­ing warn­ings that the deal with Libya could con­demn more peo­ple to de­ten­tion, ex­pos­ing them to tor­ture, rape, forced labour and ex­tor­tion.

“We can­not be a silent wit­ness to mod­ern-day slav­ery, rape and other sex­ual vi­o­lence, and un­law­ful killings, in the name of man­ag­ing mi­gra­tion and pre­vent­ing des­per­ate and trau­ma­tised peo­ple from reach­ing Europe’s shores,” Hus­sein said.

Peo­ple at a de­ten­tion cen­tre in the city of Zawiyah, west of the Libyan cap­i­tal, Tripoli. Pho­to­graph: Taha Jawashi/AFP/Getty Images

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