Amnesty Int’l Report on Libya Criticises Libya and EU on Refugee Treatment

Amnesty International has released a comprehensive report on Libya entitled “Libya of Tomorrow – What Hope for Human Rights?”  The report covers a range of matters including the criminal justice system and the use of the death penalty.   Section 5 of the report (beginning at p 91) addresses the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  The report was finalised before the recent decision of the Libyan government to close the UNHCR office in Tripoli.

In regard to refugee issues, Amnesty is very critical of both Libya and the EU and calls upon EU member states to “ensure that any bilateral agreements with Libya in the area of migration and asylum, including the EU-Libya Framework Agreement currently being negotiated, are based on full respect for the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.”

Excerpts from Section 5, “Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants”:

Members of the EU have been actively seeking the collaboration of Libya in controlling the flow of migrants to European shores – turning a blind eye to Libya’s dire human rights record, the absence of a functioning asylum system in Libya, and persistent reports of the abuse and ill-treatment of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  The Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Co-operation signed in August 2008 between Italy and Libya includes provisions for bilateral efforts to combat “illegal migration”, facilitated by the joint patrolling of the sea agreed upon in December 2007 in the “Protocol” and the “Additional Technical-Operational” Protocol”.

As part of the agreements, Italy promised to compensate Libya for its occupation of the country between 1911 and 1943. The Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Co-operation involves a US$5bn package for construction projects, [and other items].  In return, Libya agreed, among other things, to tighten control of its territorial waters and accept disembarkation on its soil of individuals intercepted at sea by Italian vessels. Italy was also reported to have undertaken to provide resources, including technology, to control migrant flows through the southern borders of Libya. In fact, Italy has provided Libya with six motor patrol boats since the Treaty entered into force.

In the framework of these agreements, from May 2009 onwards Italy started returning refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants intercepted in international waters to Libya. On 6 May 2009, distress calls were sent from three vessels with an estimated 230 third-country nationals on board. Italian coastguard vessels intervened but transported the individuals to Tripoli, without stopping in an Italian port and without checking whether any individuals on board were in need of international protection or basic humanitarian assistance. Further interceptions and returns occurred in the subsequent months: according to official information from the Italian Ambassador to Libya, between 6 May and 3 September 2009, over 1,000 individuals were returned to Libya. They included nationals from Eritrea, Somalia and other sub-Saharan African countries. The Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni was reported to have called this action “an historic achievement after one year of bilateral negotiations with Libya”….

Despite these pleas by UNHCR and consistent reports of abuses suffered by refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya, the Italian authorities continue to intercept vessels at sea and send them back to other countries most notably Libya.  In January 2010, Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni stated that the number of migrants arriving to Italian shores was reduced by 74 per cent in 2009 compared to 2008, attributing the reduction to Italy’s bilateral agreements with Libya.

Italy is not alone in seeking Libya’s cooperation to control the flow of migrants to European shores. Negotiations between Libya and the EU over a Framework Agreement started in November 2008 covering the control of migration, among other issues, including potential readmission agreements for third-country nationals who have transited through Libya on their way to Europe….

UNHCR [prior to its recent expulsion from Libya] and its partners have also been involved in screening individuals pushed back to Libya from Italy. UNHCR declared that by October 2009, it had been able to screen 890 people and had registered 206 of them as refugees and secured their release from detention.  UNCHR also registered 80 individuals pushed back from Italy in November 2009, granting 40 of them refugee status. The remainder were awaiting their interviews for refugee status determination at the time of writing. UNHCR confirmed that a total of 685 individuals determined to be refugees or asylum-seekers were released from detention from 2008 to February 2010, including 450 Eritreans and 150 Somalis…..

Click here for the Report.

Click here for AI Press Release regarding the Report.

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Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Reports, UNHCR

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