Libya-EU co­op­er­a­tion to stem mi­grant flow ‘in­hu­man,’ says UN

Tripoli’s de­ten­tion sys­tem for refugees is ‘bro­ken be­yond re­pair’

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

GENEVA: The EU’s pol­icy of help­ing the Libyan au­thor­i­ties in­ter­cept mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean and re­turn them to “hor­rific” pris­ons in Libya is “in­hu­man,” the UN said Tues­day.

“The suf­fer­ing of mi­grants de­tained in Libya is an outrage to the con­science of hu­man­ity,” the UN hu­man rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hus­sein said in a state­ment.

“The Euro­pean Union’s pol­icy of as­sist­ing the Libyan Coast Guard to in­ter­cept and re­turn mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean (is) in­hu­man,” he said.

Chaos-rid­den Libya has long been a ma­jor tran­sit hub for mi­grants try­ing to reach Europe, and many refugees and mi­grants have fallen prey to se­ri­ous abuse there at the hands of hu­man traf­fick­ers and oth­ers.

Al-Hus­sein warned Tues­day that “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.”

Al-Hus­sein’s comments came af­ter min­is­ters from 13 Euro­pean and African coun­tries on Mon­day pledged steps aimed at eas­ing the mi­grant cri­sis around the Mediter­ranean, vow­ing es­pe­cially to help im­prove con­di­tions for mi­grants held in Libya.At a meet­ing in Bern of the con­tact group on the cri­sis along the so-called Cen­tral Mediter­ranean mi­gra­tion route, the min­is­ters also re­it­er­ated a pledge to strengthen Libya’s coast guard.

Italy, with the sup­port of the EU, has since the sum­mer been train­ing the Libyan coast guard to in­ter­cept boat mi­grants as part of a con­tro­ver­sial deal that has sent mi­grant ar­rivals to Italy down nearly 70 per­cent since July.

The UN rights of­fice crit­i­cized Euro­pean coun­tries for ig­nor­ing warn­ings that the deal could con­demn more mi­grants to de­ten­tion, ex­pos­ing them to tor­ture, rape, forced la­bor and ex­tor­tion.

“Those de­tained have no pos­si­bil­ity to chal­lenge the le­gal­ity of their de­ten­tion, and no ac­cess to le­gal aid,” it said.

Al-Hus­sein called for the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of irregular mi­gra­tion, in­sist­ing that “only al­ter­na­tives to de­ten­tion can save mi­grants’ lives and phys­i­cal se­cu­rity, pre­serve their dig­nity and pro­tect them from fur­ther atroc­i­ties.”

Ac­cord­ing to Libya’s De­part­ment of Com­bat­ting 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 huge hike came af­ter au­thor­i­ties de­tained thou­sands of mi­grants pre­vi­ously held by smug­glers in the Libya’s peo­ple-traf­fick­ing hub Sabratha, to the west of Tripoli.

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

He said staff mem­bers had vis­ited four DCIM fa­cil­i­ties ear­lier this month and were “shocked” by what they saw. There were “thou­sands of ema­ci­ated and trau­ma­tized 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.

Mi­grants, in­clud­ing chil­dren, de­scribed hor­rific beat­ings by guards at de­ten­tion cen­ters, 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 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 cen­ters, and to stop de­tain­ing mi­grants.

“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 trau­ma­tized peo­ple from reach­ing Europe’s shores,” Al-Hus­sein said.

Mi­grants are seen at a de­ten­tion cen­ter in Tripoli, Libya, in a file photo. (Reuters)

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