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`EU, member states must not ignore human rights violations in Libya’: Amnesty

EU under fire for cooperating with Libya 14th December 2010: The EU has come under fire for cooperating with Libya.

Amnesty International says Libya detains illegal migrants in inhuman conditions. They are subjected torture and humiliation; and the European Union is co-operating with the Libyan government in its work.
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Condemning Libya and the EU over co-operation to prevent African migrants crossing from North Africa to Europe, the human rights adds efforts are on to block the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe after a deal was penned recently.

“EU-Libya cooperation needs to have human rights and responsibility-sharing at its core – the founding principles of international protection. The EU and its member states must not turn a blind eye to continuing human rights violations in Libya, when seeking Libya’s cooperation in order to stem the flow of people arriving in the EU from Africa,” says Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Under the deal, the EU is paying Libya 50 million euros for its co-operation. The numbers of migrants have been dramatically reduced, but Amnesty says Europe is ignoring Libya’s dire human rights record.

As of now Libya patrols its shores with boats donated by Italy. Migrants in small boats close to Malta are sometimes sent back to Libya.

Amnesty quotes a Somali woman who arrived in Malta in July 2010 via Libya as saying: It is better to die in the sea than return to Libya.

In a new report, Amnesty elaborates: Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers escaping persecution and armed conflict, face torture and indefinite detention as they attempt to make the journey to Europe via Libya.

`Seeking safety, finding fear: Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya and Malta’, in fact, brings to the fore the plight of those attempting to reach the EU, many in search of refuge and protection, and the human rights abuses they face in Libya and Malta.

`In Libya, foreign nationals, including refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants are particularly vulnerable and live in constant fear of being arrested and held for long periods, tortured or otherwise abused,’ says Malcolm Smart.
 
`Moreover, many are in fear of being returned to their countries of origin, with no regard to the real risk of persecution they face there.’

The Amnesty says according to the Libyan authorities, there are over three million “irregular migrants” in Libya, many from other parts of Africa, yet the Libyan authorities insist that none of them is a refugee.

Tens of thousands of Somalis leave Somalia every year making long and dangerous journeys through countries such as Libya to flee the conflict that has ravaged their country since 1991.  Many spend all their savings to embark on risky journeys across the Mediterranean.

Refugees and asylum-seekers live in a legal limbo in Libya, regardless of their need for protection. Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has no asylum system. In November 2010, the government publicly rejected recommendations that Libya ratify the 1951 Convention and agree a memorandum of understanding with the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, according to which the latter would be able to assist refugees and asylum seekers in Libya.

`Asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya have nowhere to turn for help, and have become even more vulnerable since the Libyan authorities ordered UNHCR to suspend its activities last June. The very least that the Libyan authorities must do is protect those fleeing persecution and conflict from arrest, violence and abuse, and ensure they are not returned to places where they face a real risk of persecution or serious harm,’ says Smart.

Amnesty goes on to add torture and other abuse of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants is systematic in Libya. Guards frequently punch detainees or beat them with metal rods or batons, and those who complain about detention conditions or ask for medical help face assault and other punishment.

Despite this, in October, the European Commission signed a “cooperation agenda” with the Libyan authorities over the “management of migration flows” and “border control” until 2013, according to which the EU will pay Libya 50 million Euros.

Meanwhile, a broader “Framework Agreement” between the EU and Libya is being negotiated, including in order to allow the “readmission” to Libya of “third-country” nationals who enter the EU after transiting through Libya.

An estimated 13,000 people arrived in Malta by boat from Libya between 2002 and May 2009.  Malta, however, is not the safe haven they were hoping to reach. Under Maltese law, any new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are liable to be considered “prohibited immigrants” and face mandatory detention of indeterminate length – in practice up to 18 months.

Existing legal remedies to challenge detentions have been judged “ineffective” by the European Court of Human Rights.

“Malta’s geographical position means that it has to cope with large and mixed flows of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, and this clearly presents a significant challenge. However, this does not relieve Malta of its obligations under international and regional refugee and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights,” Smart adds.

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