EU blames mistreatment of refugees detained in Libya

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Related investigations published by The New Yorker magazine and NBC News have cast critical light on the European Union for helping Libya capture and detain immigrants destined for Europe fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, by Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

On November 29, NBC News published a report on EU aid to the Libyan Coast Guard and alleged violations of refugee rights. A similar investigation by Der Spiegel last spring also focused on how Frontex, the EU’s border patrol force, helped Libyans locate migrants attempting to cross via the Mediterranean.

The New Yorker investigation accused the EU of creating a “ghost” immigration system that keeps migrants held in secret centers where they are mistreated by for-profit militias.

Citing human rights groups, the New Yorker report said detainees were raped, electrically shocked and other forms of torture, forced to pay ransoms and sold for forced labor.

More than a million refugees crossed Europe in 2015 and 2016, mainly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries. Despite the heartbreaking risks of the sea crossing – thousands of people drowned in the attempt – the flow continues to Spain, Italy and Greece. But the EU halted maritime rescues almost three years ago and is now accused of using Libya as a surrogate to deter and detain migrants.

Here’s how the NBC report described the system:

“The EU, led by Italy, has trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard to serve as a maritime proxy force, the main objective of which is to prevent migrants from reaching European shores. Flying drones and planes over the Mediterranean, Frontex locates the rafts of migrants, then alerts the Italians who, in turn, inform the Libyan authorities. Once captured by the Libyan coast guard, tens of thousands of these migrants are then delivered to a dozen detention centers run by militias.

“This collaboration was the main factor behind a dramatic drop in the number of migrants reaching Europe: around 20,000 migrants arrived in the first seven months of this year, compared to 70,000 during the same period in 2016. Without the support of Frontex aerial reconnaissance, the Libyan Coast Guard would indeed be looking with their eyes closed.

Responding to questions about the EU’s responsibility for the abuses, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, told NBC News that the EU was only providing humanitarian aid:

“The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa does not fund detention centers across the country. However, through its partners, the Commission provides vital support to detained migrants.

But based on the evidence in investigative reports, this is misleading.

The EU has always denied responsibility for the inhumane treatment of refugees in Libya and other frontline countries on the migration routes despite criticism from human rights groups.

Libya has become a privileged migratory route for refugees coming from Africa. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa program is a partnership with 26 countries to tackle the “root causes of irregular migration and displaced people” on the continent. According to the fund’s website, it has spent more than $ 500 million on humanitarian programs in Libya, including support for COVID-19.

Migrants and refugees wait to be helped by workers at Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after being spotted sailing an uncontrollable rubber dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea, about 12 miles north of Sabratha, Libya, on Sunday July 23, 2017 (Santi Palacios / PA)

But while the fund describes its mission as “managing flows, saving lives,” the reality is much more complex, according to the New Yorker report:

“[M]a little of [the trust fund’s] the job is to pressure African countries to adopt tighter immigration restrictions and to fund the agencies that enforce them. In 2018, Nigerien officials reportedly sent “shopping lists” asking for freebies of cars, planes and helicopters in return for their help in advancing anti-immigrant policies. The program has also supported state law enforcement agencies, funding the creation of an intelligence center for the Sudanese secret police, and enabling the EU to release personal data of Ethiopian nationals to their country’s intelligence services.

“The money is distributed at the discretion of the executive branch of the EU, the European Commission, and is not subject to scrutiny by its parliament.”

The NBC report says the EU, led by Italy, has trained and equipped Libyan security guards accused of abusing refugees. The EU also lobbied the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) to expand the search and rescue zone from Libya to the Mediterranean, NBC said.

As in the previous Der Spiegel report, the NBC article cited Frontex for forwarding an aerial reconnaissance video to the Libyan Coast Guard:

“Although the Libyan Coast Guard regularly opens fire on migrant rafts, whether they have been linked by the UN to human trafficking and murder and are now led by militias, they continue to benefit from ‘strong support from the EU. In 2020, the EU dispatched four new speedboats to the Libyan Coast Guard so that they can more effectively capture migrants and send them to the same detention centers the UN has described as being involved in crimes against state sponsored humanity.

The New Yorker and NBC reports were both published in conjunction with The Outlaw Ocean Project, a nonprofit news organization founded by Ian Urbina, an award-winning investigative journalist. For 11 months, the project team scoured public documents, interviewed EU politicians and sifted the social media of Libyan officials to track EU money:

“The survey found that the EU pays for every aspect of the infrastructure for intercepting migrants in one way or another – from aerial surveillance to Libyan boats, to SUVs that intercept migrants in the desert. buses that bring them from the port to the gates of the detention centers, and even pays the Libyan Coast Guard offices.

Human rights groups have long been explaining how asylum seekers destined for Europe who are brought back to Libya are held in detention centers run by lawless armed militias. Human Rights Watch said in its January 2019 report, “No Escape from Hell,” that the EU’s migration cooperation with Libya is creating a “cycle of extreme abuse.”

In a briefing to the UN Security Council on November 24, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya Jan Kubis expressed concern over arbitrary and unlawful detentions and enforced disappearances .

“Many detainees, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, are subjected to torture, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations involving state officials, and thousands detainees are being held in secret facilities run by armed groups and human trafficking networks, ”Kubis said. .

In May, the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) weighed in. not a tragic anomaly, but rather a consequence of concrete political decisions and practices of the Libyan authorities, Member States and European Union (EU) institutions and other actors who have come together to create an environment where dignity and the human rights of migrants are there. risk.”

The OHCHR report called on the EU to “refrain” from transferring responsibility for search and rescue operations to Libya, concluding:

“The general messages from this body of research and reports make it clear that: Libya is not a safe place for the return or disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea; current SAR policies and practices in the central Mediterranean allow a series of violations and abuses against migrants rather than ending them; and all states in the region, as well as the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, the EU Naval Force for the Mediterranean, the European Commission and other stakeholders, must reform urgently need their SAR (search and rescue) policies, practices, funding and cooperation to promote more principled and effective migration governance that prioritizes the protection of migrants at sea and is consistent with obligations under international law. ”

Libya descended into chaos after NATO-backed rebels overthrew long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country is now divided between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) , based in the capital Tripoli, and a rival government. supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar.

Human rights watchdogs have criticized other EU-funded immigration efforts, including refugee detention centers in Greece that Doctors Without Borders called “dehumanizing”.

“After fleeing their homes and surviving arduous journeys to Europe, indefinite confinement, limbo and systematic violence in Greece further traumatize those seeking protection,” the group said.

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