Updated | ‘Closing’ sea border would lock refugees in horrendous conditions

€200 million migration plan on EU summit table for Friday

Alternattiva Demokratika has said that it welcomes cooperation between governments and international organisations on issues of migration
Alternattiva Demokratika has said that it welcomes cooperation between governments and international organisations on issues of migration

Closing the EU’s southern sea borders would put thousands of refugees and migrants setting sail from Libya at risk of detention and appalling human rights abuses, Amnesty International warned as European leaders meet in Malta tomorrow to secure an EU-Libya migration plan. 

According to a draft agreement of the Malta declaration to the European Council, the EU “will “take additional action to stem migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route and break the business model of smugglers”: by working with Libya and other North African and sub-Saharan neighbours.

“Our actions will be carried out in full respect for human rights and international law, and in conjunction with UNHCR and IOM,” the declaration reads.

But the plan also mentions capacity building in Libya for better control on land sea borders, and other transit points. “The EU will also step up cooperation with and assistance to Libyan regional and local communities and with international organisations active in the country.”

Amnesty said that the EU naval operations Sophia and Triton would in practice delegate search and rescue of refugees and migrants by sharing information about the location of the migrant and refugee boats to the Libyan Coast Guard, facilitating their interception and return to Libya.

“The proposal to pull back EU naval operations from search and rescue activities and encourage – and indirectly fund – the Libyan coast guard to plug the gap, is a thinly veiled plan to prevent refugees and migrants reaching Europe.  It will trap tens of thousands of people in conflict ravaged country and expose them to the risk of torture and exploitation.  This plan is just the latest, but perhaps the most callous indicator of European leaders turning their back on refugees,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

Amnesty said that in all likelihood, people intercepted by the Libyan coastguard will be taken back to detention centres in Libya.

Amnesty International has documented the indefinite and arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees in such centres, as well as inhumane conditions and other grave human rights abuses including torture and rape

“It is frankly staggering, given the gravity of the situation in Libya and the depth of human suffering endured by refugees and migrants there, that such a proposal is even being discussed. The lack of any tangible details on resettlement or on safeguards for migrants and refugees trapped in an essentially lawless country betrays the mean-spirited intentions behind this cynical proposal,” McGowan said.

The priorities in the plan of action will include:

  • Training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coast guard;
  • Disrupt smugglers through “enhanced operational action” that involves both Libya and “engaged member states” with missions from the Common Security and Defence Policy, Europol and the European Border and Coast Guard;
  • Supporting Libyan communities in coastal areas and at other borders, “to improve their socio-economic situation and enhance their resilience as host communities”;
  • Provide adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM;
  • Supporting IOM’s assisted voluntary returns;
  • Provide information campaigns to migrants counter smugglers’ business model;
  • Include Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria for better operational cooperation with on returns.

These objectives will be funded EU-Trust Fund for Africa, the European Neighbourhood Instrument, and support to IOM and UNHCR, starting with a €200 million cost as a first step.

UNCHR reaction

The UN's refugee agency in Malta said that to better protect refugees and migrants, a strong EU was required that would be engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need. "This includes building capacity to save lives at sea or on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks. We call for concerted efforts to ensure that sustainable migration and asylum systems are put in place in Libya, when the security and political situation permits, and in neighboring countries."

The UNCHR urged a move away from migration management based on the automatic detention of refugees and migrants in inhumane conditions in Libya towards the creation of proper reception services. "Concrete measures in support of the Government of Libya are needed to build capacity to register new arrivals, support the voluntary return of migrants, process asylum claims and offer solutions to refugees. This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys."

Alternattiva Demokratika

The Green party Alternattiva Demokratika welcomed cooperation between governments and international organizations on migration issues, but said the problem remains the situation in Libya.

Alternattiva Demokratika Chairperson Prof.Arnold Cassola said: “The crux of the problem, however, remains the situation in Libya, where rule of law and respect of human rights are conspicuous by their absence.  With a non-recognized government in Tobruk, another UN recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, and with General Haftar dictating terms in Benghazi and controlling the main Libyan oil terminals, who will be the reliable Libyan counterpart to seriously tackle migration issues, in full respect of human rights?”