The countries of the European Union who wish to stop the flow of migrants, have recently decided to keep these vulnerable populations in Libya, come what may. This is the latest example of a series of unacceptable, inhuman initiatives put in place to protect the European frontiers. The European migration policy is being pursued inexorably, regardless of the devastating consequences on the lives and health of thousands of refugees and migrants now trapped in Libya, where they face horrible suffering.
The European governments are seeking actively to implement retention policies for the migrants in Libya. They decided in July to support the Libyan government by enabling it to prevent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from crossing the Mediterranean in search of refuge and protection in Europe. In fact the European Union has allocated €46 million for the training of Libyan coastguards whose mission is the interception of migrants’ small craft attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The strategy followed by European governments is clear: they are ready to do anything to shift these individuals and their suffering far away from the European gaze.
“The “externalisation” of the borders of Europe is nothing other than an act of sub-contracting: the European countries that do not wish to accommodate any more refugees, but that are bound by international obligations and treaties, to provide them with asylum, care and treatment, are seeking to evade their responsibilities by paying Libya to do this instead", declares Paul Delaunois, Director General of Médecins Sans Frontières Luxembourg. "The strategy followed by European governments is clear: they are ready to do anything to shift these individuals and their suffering far away from the European gaze”.
According to the United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR), the Libyan coastguards have intercepted 10,592 refugees and migrants at sea between 1 January and 31 August this year. All these people were forcibly brought back to Libya and detained. In Libya the refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, including pregnant women, are exposed to horrible levels of violence and exploitation: abductions for ransom, forced work, sexual violence and forced prostitution, captivity or arbitrary detention, physical and psychological violence, and torture.
The European ministers continue to state that conditions will be improved for individuals that are sent back to Libya, although they know that this is not possible.
The MSF teams have been working for over a year in Tripoli and have directly witnessed the terrible conditions to which those who hare held in the detention centres are subjected. If security constraints allow it, and if the teams themselves are not in danger, they visit seven detention centres each week, which are under the control of the Libyan ministry of health in Tripoli. From the outset of this project, in June 2016, MSF has intervened in 16 centres different detention centres in Tripoli. In Misrata, 200 km east of Tripoli, MSF is also deploying the same type of activities and treats refugees and migrants in four other detention centres. Each month, the MSF medical teams provide on average 100 consultations.
On the other hand, other unofficial prisons remain completely inaccessible. In fact some migrants are held in private premises secured by armed groups and in “transit houses”, places where traffickers accommodate refugees before their transfer to the next stage, and there are very many detention centres such as farms, warehouses, houses, and apartments managed by smugglers and armed groups, to which MSF does not have access, because only the legal centres can be visited by the MSF teams. But a large number of testimonials confirm that maltreatment and ransoming are widespread in this type of arrangement.
“I visited a large number of official detention centres in September and I know that these only represent the visible tip of the iceberg”, explains Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières.
Despite the declarations of the European governments, including the Luxembourg government, suggesting that improvements should be made to the inhuman conditions that prevail in these centres and that access should be guaranteed for the NGOs and international organisations, no measures have been implemented to date. “The European ministers continue to state that conditions will be improved for individuals that are sent back to Libya, although they know that this is not possible”, a state of affairs that Paul Delaunois deplores.
A reduction in the number of individuals leaving the Libyan shores does not mean a reduction in the suffering of migrants held in Libya.
“A reduction in the number of individuals leaving the Libyan shores does not mean a reduction in the suffering of migrants held in Libya”. European governments are content with preaching the necessity of improving detention conditions and close their eyes to the complexity of the real situation in Libya currently, at the risk of legitimising and perpetuating a system in which individuals are held arbitrarily and exposed to maltreatment and exploitation, without any possible legal recourse.
“The people imprisoned in Libya, treated like merchandise, have become hostages to the network of traffickers and need a way out of this. Profiting form the misery and suffering of those caught in the trap must stop now” says Paul Delaunois.
MSF calls upon European governments, and in particular the Luxembourg government, to cease being apologists for the interception and forced return of migrants and refugees to Libya and to take rapid action to put an end to this system of arbitrary detention.
Find the report below :
Human Suffering: Inside Libya’s migrant detention centres
* Main picture : women and children detained at female-only Sorman detention centre, around 60km west of Tripoli, Libya. © Guillaume Binet/Myop