EU willing to pay ‘almost any cost’ to stop refugees

Rescue operations are still be carried out by Operation Sophia, but the EU has been accused of indirectly contributing to the plight of refugees. [CSDP EEAS/Flickr]

Amnesty International has accused the EU of indirectly supporting attacks on refugees by Libyan security forces because of the bloc’s cooperation with the country’s authorities. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The European Union’s plans to cooperate with Libya’s transitional government on migration policy is harming refugees, said Amnesty International in a report published yesterday (14 June). It said that thousands of people are indefinitely detained in catastrophic conditions in Libyan prisons and suffer under systematic ill-treatment carried out by security personnel.

“Europe shouldn’t even think about migration cooperation arrangements with Libya if it results, directly or indirectly, in such shocking human rights violations. The EU has repeatedly shown it is willing to stop refugees and migrants from coming to the continent at almost any cost now, with human rights taking a back seat,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

Last month, Brussels announced that it would be extending Operation Sophia, an anti-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean, by another year. The EU also announced that it would be increasing its collaboration with the Libyan coastguard, exchanging information on popular routes and training local personnel.

In mid-May, the UK’s Lords EU Committee delivered a damning verdict on the operation. This new criticism casts a further shadow on the EU’s North Africa plans.

Amnesty interviewed 90 people in the Italian regions of Puglia and Sicily that had survived the treacherous journey from Libya. At least 20 of them reported severe abuse, shootings and torture by the Libyan coastguard or detention centre staff. In one case, the coastguard reportedly refused to save a sinking boat with 120 people on it.

One of the interviewees, Abdurrahman from Eritrea, was on a boat that was intercepted by Libyan authorities. “They ordered us to get off the boat and then beat us with rubber hoses and wooden sticks,” he told Amnesty. The last passenger was asked who the driver of the boat was. When he replied that he didn’t know “they shot him in the foot and said that meant he was the driver”.

In Libya, irregular migration is punished severely. Anyone caught without the right paperwork is often detained indefinitely.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 2,100 people have already died in the first half on 2016 trying to cross to Italy. More than 49,000 have survived the voyage; most of them rescued by European naval forces, NGOs and commercial vessels.

In Libyan detention centres, ill-treatment and torture are commonplace. In November 2015, the UN made allegations of serious human rights violations against the Libyan authorities. Torture, abuse and racist attacks are a daily occurence, warned the international organisation’s local office. It called the conditions imposed on migrants “inhumane”.

Poverty-stricken Chad shows Europe how to host refugees

The influx of refugees into Europe is put into perspective by Chad, a nation of 13 million that is playing host to 645,000 displaced persons. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

Amnesty has been collecting testimonies since 2011 and has found that brutal attacks continue unabated against migrants. Former prisoners have painted a picture of daily beatings with rubber hoses, wooden sticks, electric cables and rifle butts.

Survivors interviewed by Amnesty also claimed that they were forced to sleep outside on the ground and that the authorities would often sprinkle the area with water beforehand, so the ground was always cold.

Just a few days ago, the European Commission announced its ambitious plans to try and stymie the flow of migrants into Europe by cooperating more closely with African countries to monitor known routes.

Libya is considered to be crucial to this strategy. Since the closure of the Western Balkan route, it has taken on an even more significant position as Europe tries to deal with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

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