A terrifying night in Libya highlights the EU's sly double standards on migrants - The Libyan Report

A terrifying night in Libya highlights the EU's sly double standards on migrants

In the neighbourhood of Tajoura in eastern Tripoli on the night of 2 July, two airstrikes struck a detention centre in which refugees and migrants were held. At least 53 people, reportedly including six children, were killed. At least 130 were injured. Days later, bodies were still being pulled from the rubble.

The attack, branded a war crime by the UN, has been blamed on the warlord Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) have wrought destruction wherever they have gone. But Haftar cannot be blamed for the detention of these refugees and migrants, nor the appalling conditions in which they were forced to live before their murder from the sky.

In 2009, the then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi reached an agreement with Italy. Under the terms of the agreement, Libya would staunch the flow of migrants through the country and across the Mediterranean to the southern shores of Europe. In return, the EU would provide the Libyan coast guard with resources and training.

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The deal fell apart in the wake of Gaddafi’s overthrow, but it was resurrected in 2016 by the incumbent Government of National Accord (GNA). Italy began to intercept migrants crossing the sea and return them to Libya, where they were and are held in detention centres until “the EU finds them third countries to which to relocate”. The EU’s request to establish processing offices for migrants on Libyan soil was flatly refused.

The care of migrants held in detention centres is delegated to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and funded by the EU. But this care amounts only to “hygiene kits”, consisting of toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, and mattresses, as well as blankets in winter. The IOM provides no food or medicine, and visiting doctors only provide prescriptions; those without money, then, must go without medicine.

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Israel's cabinet will meet in the Golan Heights to honour US President Donald Trump and vote on naming a settlement there after him, the prime minister's office announced AFP/Getty 26/50 13 June 2019 French President Emmanuel Macron walks past the coffins of the three National Society of Sea Rescue (SNSM) ocean rescue volunteers, who died in a storm last week after their boat capsized, during a ceremony in their tribute at Fort-Saint Nicolas in Les Sables d'Olonne, France AFP/Getty 27/50 12 June 2019 Police clash with protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong. 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People took to the streets on Sunday to protest a proposed amendment to the extradition law that protesters fear would allow Hong Kong citizens to be unfairly extradited to China AP 31/50 8 June 2019 A participant dances while holding a large rainbow flag during the Athens Gay Pride. Thousands marched in the 15th annual Athens Pride parade that was dedicated to the memory of a LGBTI activist who died earlier this year after a violent attack. Greek capital's Syntagma square, the venue of violent anti-austerity protests during the peak of the financial crisis, was full of rainbow flags as well as body painting kiosks for the more than 7,000 participants AFP/Getty 32/50 7 June 2019 A man walks past a billboard showing members of the French women's World Cup football team on the side of a building on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris. The 2019 tournament starts this evening with the hosts playing South Korea Reuters 33/50 6 June 2019 Canadian's Army officer stands during the international ceremony on Juno Beach in Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, northwestern France, as part of D-Day commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II Allied landings in Normandy AFP/Getty 34/50 5 June 2019 Queen Elizabeth II and US President Donald Trump at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth Reuters 35/50 4 June 2019 Muslim worshippers gather to perform Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Martyrs Square of the capital Tripoli. Muslims worldwide celebrate Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan AFP/Getty 36/50 3 June 2019 President Donald Trump reviews an honor guard during a ceremonial welcome in the garden of Buckingham Palace in London AP 37/50 2 June 2019 A cruise ship crashed into a dock and a tourist river boat on one of Venice’s busiest canals. Four people were injured in the smash, Venice port authorities reported. It happened on the Giudecca Canal – a major thoroughfare that leads to Saint Mark’s Square – on Sunday morning at 8.30am AFP/Getty 38/50 1 June 2019 Supporters arrive at Wanda Metropolitano stadium for the Champions League final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in Madrid EPA 39/50 31 May 2019 A Palestinian girl cool off by water to beat the scorching heat, as others pray outside the Dome of the Rock at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,31 May 2019. Israeli police Friday morning shot and killed a Palestinian young man following an alleged stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. Muslims around the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan by praying during the night time and abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual acts daily between sunrise and sunset. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and it is believed that the Koran's first verse was revealed during its last 10 nights. EPA 40/50 30 May 2019 Serena Williams in action during her second round match against Japan's Kurumi Nara. The 23-time grand slam winner went through to the next round 6-3, 6-2 Reuters 41/50 29 May 2019 Ken Wyatt is sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians by Australia's Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra, Australia. Scott Morrison announced his new ministry on Sunday 26 May, following his victory in the May 18 Federal election. The new Cabinet features a record number of women with seven taking on senior roles, including Bridget McKenzie as the first female Agriculture Minister. Ken Wyatt is the first indigenous person to be appointed the Indigenous Affairs Minister Getty 42/50 28 May 2019 People look on as they examine the damaged remains of school in Dayton, Ohio, after powerful tornadoes ripped through the US state overnight, causing at least one fatality and widespread damage and power outages AFP/Getty 43/50 27 May 2019 President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attend a State Banquet with Japanese Emperor Naruhito, second from right, and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo AP 44/50 26 May 2019 Former Italian PM and leader of the right-wing party Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi looks at photographers as he casts his vote at a polling station in Milan AFP/Getty 45/50 25 May 2019 A paramilitary soldier stands guard in front of closed shops during restrictions in downtown area of Srinagar EPA 46/50 24 May 2019 Pope Francis gestures as he participates alongside thousands of soccer-mad children in a project to promote the values of sport and soccer, at the Vatican Reuters 47/50 23 May 2019 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters celebrate their party's potential win as votes are counted for the Lok Sabha election in Bangalore, India. The Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, elections, began on 11 April and held for 542 of the 543 lower house seats. A party or alliance needs 272 seats to form a government. It was announced that Narendra Modi was to retain the position of Prime Minister along with the BJP EPA 48/50 22 May 2019 Palestinian children help their father sort through arugula produce before he heads to sell it at a market, in an impoverished area in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip AFP/Getty 49/50 21 May 2019 Indonesia's Incumbent President from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) Joko Widodo takes a selfie with local residents after his victory speech following the announcement of the election results at a slum area in Jakarta. Joko Widodo was re-elected after beating his rival, retired General Prabowo Subianto EPA 50/50 20 May 2019 President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky holding an ancient Bulava (historical symbol of the state power) during his inauguration in the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev. Mr Zelensky with 73,22 percent of the votes beat out the current president Petro Poroshenko, who received 24,45 percent of the votes during the second tour of presidential elections in Ukraine which was held on 21 April Presidential Press Service/EPA

In some of these detention centres, migrants are abused, beaten and exploited. When we asked officials at the UN and the EU to press the IOM to visit these centres and speak to migrants, they ignored us – or at least, failed to persuade the IOM.

No one checked on the unaccompanied minors held with adults. No one spoke to migrants in desperate need of medical attention. Indeed there was no apparent change at all in the IOM’s way of operating: they continued to visit detention centres, have migrants stand in long queues outside, and hand out hygiene kits and mattresses before leaving.

In Brussels last year, I asked an official at the EU Commission, “What’s the point of giving a starving migrant a hygiene kit? They need food. Babies need milk formula. Their starving mothers can’t feed them.” The reply? “We don’t want them to stay. If we provide them with food, they will stay.”

There is a reason that conditions in the detention centres are so lamentable. The IOM hopes migrants will “choose” to comply with its “voluntary return programme”, a programme funded by the EU.

But the choice with which migrants are faced is no choice at all. Stay in the cramped and inhuman settings of the detention centre, bereft of food and medicine, surrounded by exploitation and abuse, or go back, possibly to a war zone, arid land or country where you will be persecuted.

The GNA, meanwhile, has a choice of its own. It can go on as before, or it can close all the detention centres in Libya and release all the migrants housed in them. It’s clear what the GNA should do: without support from Europe, it cannot protect those migrants from Haftar nor provide them with their most basic needs. It should release them all.

The solution to the migration crisis is to be found only through collaboration between the countries migrants leave, the countries through which they travel, and the countries to which they are headed – in the latter case, EU member states. But it seems at the moment that responsible politicians are rare a commodity.

Europe is in the throes of an identity crisis and Libya continues to tear itself apart. The migration crisis will not wait for them to resolve their problems, and as the effects of climate change become increasingly grave, it will intensify. More men, more women and more children will make the perilous journey to North Africa and then Europe. And perhaps those who mourn their suffering should ask themselves, Are we doing everything we can do?

Ahmed El-Gasir is a senior human rights researcher for Libyan NGO, Human Rights Solidarity. source