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Is Libya the right disembarking point for migrants?

Malta Summit: “Is Libya the right disembarking point for migrants?” – UN rights expert


GENEVA (3 February) – As European Union Heads of State or Government gather in Malta to discuss new measures targeting migration movements, including increased cooperation with Libya, a group of United Nations human rights experts* warn the EU against supporting a system in which migrants are pushed back to places where they may be at risk of torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Proposals on the table include capacity-building and training of the Libyan coast guards in search and rescue operations, enhanced border control and prevention of new migration routes through enhanced cooperation with North African States.

“The EU expresses its concern about the loss of life at sea, and we commend any action directed at saving lives. However, we are highly concerned that by agreeing to a deal with Libya, whereby migrants trying to flee human rights violations are being pushed back to those same conditions, the principle of non-refoulement will be violated.

Any engagement with third countries needs to be in line with international human rights standards. The EU member states cannot balk from their responsibility and are accountable for any human rights violation under such an agreement.

By going ahead with this idea, the EU has all but declared Libya a “safe third country”. Limiting departures from the Libyan coast simply means accepting and legitimizing the human suffering prevailing in Libya and pushing people back to conditions where migrants suffer arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, unlawful killings, trafficking and enforced disappearance. Migrants in Libya are exploited as free labor and vulnerable to other forms of contemporary slavery; migrant women are at risk of rape and other sexual violence.
The Libyan detention centers are severely overcrowded, without access to toilets or washing facilities, ventilation, food or clean water and they have no access to a legal process, lawyers or judicial authorities.

It is vital that the EU expands the resources committed to providing assistance to migrants in distress at sea.

These operations must allow migrants to disembark immediately at the nearest port where their lives and freedoms would not be threatened, providing them with information, offering care and support, processing their asylum claims equitably. From what we know on the conditions in Libya, this country cannot be a port of disembarkation.

As for proposals on increasing the assisted voluntary returns projects from Libya to be discussed at the Malta Summit, we are concerned that migrants with specific protection needs, such as women, children, elderly, those with disabilities, the sick and victims of trafficking, may be easily overlooked, as no meaningful individual assessment can be carried out in Libya. If the only option on the table is to continue to live in a cell in Libya or returning to the country of origin, this cannot continue to be called voluntary return.

Cooperation measures to be discussed with Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt focus almost solely on the fight against smuggling operations, securisation of borders and the prevention of new migration routes. European countries must offer safe, regular, affordable and accessible channels for mobility. It is the only way that European countries will regain full control of their borders and stay ahead of the curve. Increased securitisation and closing of borders only works to increase the suffering of those arriving at Europe’s borders and push them into the hands of smuggling rings. In the absence of any safe mobility options, fighting smuggling is a red herring. If one wants to disrupt the smuggler’s business model, one must take over the mobility market.”

NOTE TO EDITORS:
EU Head of States will discuss provisions concerning migration cooperation with North African States – Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria - at the informal Malta Summit. The key provisions to be discussed concern readmission, enhanced border control and prevention of new migration routes.

The support to Libya is part of the EU’s Seahorse Mediterranean Network which aims at strengthening border authorities of the North African countries, to ‘enhance the situational awareness of the North African countries’ on irregular migration flows and trafficking taking place in their territories (in particular in the coastal regions and territorial waters) and ‘to reinforce their reaction capacity’. The proposed actions comprise the provision of financial and material support and the delivery of capacity-building to Libyan Coast Guards, with the objective of enabling the Libyan authorities to perform search and rescue operations, with the consequent disembarkation of intercepted migrants on the Libyan coast. The support to the Libyan Coast Guard would see an increase in funding of 3.2 Million Euros.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants reiterates the key messages of his 2015 report on the management of the external borders of the EU and its impact on the human rights of migrants.

ENDS

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