New UN data reports that nearly 1000 migrants attempting to reach Europe from Libya have been captured and returned to Libya. Since January 1, 1100 migrants have attempted the dangerous journey, with 953 having been intercepted by Libya’s Coast Guard, including over 200 women and children.
The EU Observer reports hundreds of people over past few months are paying to get detained in UNHCR detention centres in Libya. They are essentially bribing traffickers to get placed in the official detention centres, according to UNHCR Special Envoy to the region, Vincent Cochetel. This is, despite the risk of being taken into slavery or undergoing sexual or physical abuse, many migrants believe this is their best chance of making it to Europe.
As the conflict continues, and expands into Tripoli, darker skinned Africans and those who don’t speak Arabic are said to be at greater risk of abduction, and therefore feel safer in the detention centres. However, being a registered asylum seeker or refugee does not grant one automatic resettlement by the UN, as many believe.
There are currently around 4500 people held in 19 official detention centres in Libya - about half of which are under UNHCR observation. The UNHCR says roughly 80% of those it resettles are from the detention centres, although it seeks to even those numbers to around half.
There are estimated to be close to 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers currently in Libya, but countries have made only 2400 pledges for resettlement in 2020 thus far.
The UN estimates around 15,000 migrants tried to get into Europe by boat over 2019 – with 8,848 having been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya through the first 11 months of 2019. This controversial cooperation is backed and funded by the EU and Italy.
French officials confirmed they are scrapping plans to supply six coast guard vessels to Libya, after 8 different humanitarian NGO’s filed a lawsuit, criticising Libya’s treatment of migrants in its detention centres. One such group told AFP it hopes this will mark “a turning point in relations between France and Libya in terms of migration policy.”
Frances’ minister of defence sought to provide semi-rigid inflatable boats, however the deal was scuttled due to pressure from the NGO’s, claiming France’s assistance would make it “complicit in the crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya.”
The Libyan Coast Guard said it intercepted 205 migrants off the coast of Tripoli this Saturday. The migrants were in 3 different inflatable boats and issued their distress calls some 83-93 kilometres off the coast.
As in similar cases, the migrants, who came from places such as Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea, were returned to detention centres in Libya, where reports are commonplace of torture, forced labour and even sexual abuse.
116 refugees considered "vulnerable", including several babies born in refugee detention centres in Libya, were evacuated to Rwanda on UNHCR organised flights. The group landed in Rwanda, where they were taken to a facility, and given food, medical care and other support. There are still thousands of refugees at risk in Libya, according to the UNHCR envoy to the region, as violence across the country continues.
Most of the refugees were from Eritrea, as well as other parts of Eastern Africa. Most were under 18. They were given an "asylum seeker" status as their cases are assessed. Some will be resettled in new countries, others will receive asylum, others will return to their countries of origin voluntarily, in places deemed safe, and some will resettle in Rwanda, according to the UN.
The UNHCR has, so far, evacuated 2,141 refugees and asylum seekers from Libya in 2019 alone.
After a week in which 5 different migrant ships were captured by Libyan coast guard ships including close to 500 migrants, the Guardian reported today that a ship with nearly 170 migrants headed to Italy capsized. The Italian coast guarded rescued 149 of the migrants, while 20 drowned to death.
Libyan Navy spokesman announced Saturday that it conducted 4 different rescue operations last Wednesday (Nov 20) off the Libyan coast. Specifically, migrant ships were intercepted near Tripoli, Garabulli, Abu Kammash and Al-Zawiya. All 284 migrants were taken to detention facilities in Tripoli.
The next day, it was announced that another 99 migrants were intercepted near Khoms port in a 5th operation.
Reportedly, one of those on board was a pregnant woman who gave birth on the Libyan naval vessel as it was heading back to Tripoli.
At least 6 bodies of migrants headed for Europe washed up on Libya's coast this Friday, while 90 more were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, according to the UN. The bodies washed up near the port of al-Khums in western Libya. Migrant smuggling ships are still being intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and by humanitarian NGO's regularly, despite a decrease in the number of those trying to reach Europe, due to the cooperation agreement between the EU and Libya. The bodies may be of migrants who tried to jump from the same ship captured by Libya, and swim to escape returning to Libya.
A recently leaked report from the EU exposes the Union's admission that it does not have the capacity to monitor Libya's coastguard as it intercepts migrant and refugee smuggling ships en-route to Europe. The leak notes the EU's awareness that migrant detention has become a "profitable business model" for the Libyan government.
The confidential report details what awaits those intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya, as they are placed in official or unofficial detention camps. The report further details a range human rights violations, abuses and violence in a 13 page report. Yet, the report also lauds the "progress achieved" in the cooperation with Libya that has reduced the amount of refugees reaching Europe. The number of migrants from Libya arriving in Italy dropped from over 107,000 in 2017 to around 13,000 in 2018 and just over 1000 as of August 2019, with the Libyan coastguard saying it intercepted over 5000 individuals since the beginning of 2019 and until August.
The cooperation agreement between the EU and Libya, in which Italy is a central party, was recently renewed with an additional 5 million Euro in funding. The EU and Italy provide the Libyan coast guard with funding, training and ships in order to intercept migrant ships before they reach Europe.
However, the EU paper admits that "conditions for migrants in Libya have deteriorated severely recently due to security concerns related to the conflict and developments in the smuggling and trafficking dynamics and economy, in addition to the worsening situation in the overcrowded detention facilities."
The document also includes the following information:
Not all in Europe are happy with this outcome. Sophie in't Veld, a Dutch MEP on the committee, reflected that although fewer people are drowning in the sea, and fewer migrants are reaching Europe, they are instead dying in the desert or being sold as slaves or tortured or raped in detention camps... "meanwhile, people smugglers are thriving. No one in their right mind can call this a success. This policy is morally and financially bankrupt".
Challenging the common belief in Europe that the search and rescue efforts of European humanitarian NGO's encourage migrants to make the treacherous journey from North Africa, a new study, reported in the Guardian, shows there is no statistical correlation the two. The study, conducted by Italian researchers at the European University Institute, examined proactive search and rescue missions from 2014 through October of 2019, mostly focusing on activity taking place in the first part of 2019, during which European nations cut back their naval activity, leaving such rescue work primarily to NGO's and to the Libyan navy.
The study found possible stronger correlations between the number of migrants attempting the journey to the level of political stability in Libya or even the weather, and not to the amount or operational activity of NGO vessels at sea.
In 2015, the study noted that the total departures from Libya deceased relative to 2014, while the number of migrants rescued by NGO's at sea increased. After July 2017, the number of migrants crossing the sea dropped, even though NGO activity increased. The study further noted that in the 85 day period in which the NGO's were operating at sea, there were no more migrant smuggling voyages than in the 225 days in which Libyan naval vessels were present. Rather, the study pointed to the biggest decline in attempts in 2017 after the Italian government struck an arrangement with the Tripoli GNA government to stop the migrant crossings closer to Libya before they reach European waters.
Throughout the 5 year period in question, NGO's have rescued 115,000 out of the 650,000 who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean.