EU's dirty dealings with Libya over refugees



In 2018, an estimated 23,000 refugee children arrived in Europe through Mediterranean trajectories, landing in Italy, Spain and Greece. During the first two weeks of January 2019, 400 refugee children arrived in Europe.

Sea Watch 3The United Nations International Children's emergency Fund (UNICEF) is asking the EU to adopt 'a region-wide approach' to prevent further suffering for minors, at a time when European countries seem to be waging a diplomatic battle between themselves over which country is the most adamant in refusing entry to refugees, children or adults alike.

If the international community provided the proper platforms for UNICEF to take their recommendation further, it would create a direct clash between the concept of human rights and the politics of exclusion unabashedly adopted by the EU.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has recently warned that EU member states are risking 'violating the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea' due to their insistence that Libya assumes responsibility for asylum search and rescue.

Recent spats have again occurred between Malta and Italy over the fate of refugees on board Sea Watch 3. As the wellbeing of rescued refugees was marginalised, the political bickering took centre stage. The right-wing sentiment flourishing across the political spectrum and gaining ground among the people is fuelling misplaced admiration in society towards leaders assuming an anti-immigrant stance.

Closing borders and ports remain a priority for the EU, whose aim is to reduce or eliminate the visibility of refugees. Meanwhile, the perils of human trafficking in Libya are ignored, despite the EU's complicity in sending refugees to their deaths away from Europe's borders.

If refugees drown in the Mediterranean, scrutiny is directed towards Europe. If the deaths happen in Libya, the EU is able to manipulate human rights rhetoric alongside the bloc's concerns. Meanwhile, it remains committed to its deals with the Libyan coastguard, which is fuelling its fair share of human trafficking and exploitation in Libya's detention centres and camps.


"As long as this political imbalance continues, the EU and the UN will continue to fuel refugee trajectories while conspiring to hide the people in Libya — the failed state of their own making."


The deal involves financing the Libyan coastguard and providing training, as well as equipment for surveillance and pushback — an initiative which at first was hailed as a measure that successfully curbed migration in the Mediterranean. In addition, it relieved European governments of criticism from human rights organisations for implementing the pushback policy at home, by paying Libya — a transit country — to assume responsibility for the human rights violation.

This agreement was introduced after the EU's unanimous description of Libya as a safe country for refugees. It ignored the emergence of Libya as an undeclared failed state after the NATO intervention that ousted former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The UN recently warned the EU that intercepting migrants and sending them back to detention centres across the North African country is 'inhuman'. It is estimated that up to 20,000 migrants are incarcerated in Libya's detention centres.

'Inhuman' is, as always, selectively applied. The UN has so far failed to classify UNSCO Resolution 1973, which authorised the NATO coalition to bomb Libya and create a haven for militias, as a violation of the universal human rights it purportedly upholds.

With international institutions distancing themselves from culpability to focus solely on human trafficking, NGOs operating rescue vessels in the Mediterranean are facing accusations of being in league with traffickers.

After Italy prevented the rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 from leaving the port of Catania, the Mediterranean is completely void of NGO ships patrolling to save refugees from drowning. Catania's prosecutor has opened an investigation into Sea Watch's actions to rule out the presumption of a criminal association between the NGO and human traffickers in Libya.

These allegations have been refuted by NGOs who have drawn attention to the fact that their absence from Mediterranean waters will eliminate the necessary testimony which documents refugee conditions at sea.

Amid the accusations and allegations, it is worth remembering that the EU, which played a part in facilitating Libya's disintegration, has facilitated what is now termed in Europe as the 'refugee phenomenon'. The EU is also promoting discourse, which already exists even within UN parameters, that divests refugees of political rights, in order to render human rights solely a humanitarian issue.

UNHRC spokesman Charlie Yaxley addressed the EU thus: 'Reducing arrivals cannot be the only barometer for success when people are drowning on Europe's doorstep.'

The problem with institutions is that the 'doorstep' is never of concern. Any institution's diplomacy depends on dissociating human rights from politics. Hence the evocation of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by UNICEF is unlikely to prompt leaders into humane politics. This refusal to commit to justice when it comes to human rights is also part of the UN agenda, which regularly endorses the capitalist plunder of nations under the guise of democracy.

As long as this political imbalance continues, the EU and the UN will continue to fuel refugee trajectories while conspiring to hide the people in Libya — the failed state of their own making.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Libya, refugees, asylum seekers, European Union



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Would that there was a Ramona Wadi who could write as clearly about the way the Australian government treats refugees! The gross deception in the government's political rhetoric in the current medivac controversy is unbelievable and yet some of my otherwise humanitarian friends and colleagues believe the "opening the flood gates" prediction of Minister Dutton. If ASIO has intelligence that people smugglers in neighbouring countries are analysing Australian government and opposition refugee policies with a view to planning further shipments the government ought to be using its Foreign Affairs and Defence Department to let these countries know who these people smugglers are and cooperate with these neighbours in indicting the smugglers illegal trade. My guess is that ASIO doesn't have credible information from reliable sources but is speculating on worst case scenarios. The same way security firms and insurance companies sell their products in our domestic market. Frighten people that they might lose their car, their house, maybe even their lives.

Uncle Pat | 13 February 2019  

An excellent, incisive and compassionate article. What it didn't discuss is the reasons these mostly Sub-Saharan African refugees are in North Africa (not just Libya) in the first place. The reasons are many: poverty; drought; political instability; terrorism and religious conflict are among them. Many Sub-Saharan countries are failed states. Leaving them and attempting to flee to Europe is an extremely perilous endeavour, with all sorts of dangers along the way. My first preference would be that these failed states sort themselves out so their citizens do not need to flee. Given the venality and dysfunction of these regimes, this is unlikely. Many European countries, like Germany, have been extremely generous about refugees, admitting over a million recently. Others, such as traditionally Catholic Poland, are far less generous. A small and densely populated country like Malta has very little capacity to absorb large numbers. Many European countries are worried about social cohesion. There are many real problems with this international refugee migration crisis. There is also no 'magic wand solution' available to make the problem go away.

Edward Fido | 14 February 2019  

Thank you, Ramona, for this update on what's been happening for asylum-seekers using the Mediterranean Sea route. I'd been aware of rescue-vessels in that theatre, but none that would meet that description in Australia, where the coastline is 'guarded' by the Navy and the tightly-knit and highly-secretive co-ordination and rounding up conducted by our 'security forces' exposes the categorically more hostile reception that our government plans for maritime refugees. In this regard I would like to alert ES readers to a most sensational and ethically-troubling article I recently encountered in the columns of the e-journal, The Conversation, which reveals that we don’t know how many asylum seekers are turned away at Australian airports, as they are only interviewed by airport security (not immigration officials), denied legal access, and summarily put on the next plane, often to be returned to the dire circumstances they have escaped from. The article particularly highlights the desperate plight of Saudi Arabian women, who enjoy highly circumscribed rights, are regarded as the property of their husbands, and are commonly subjected to the physical abuse of their male partners including, as the ultimate penalty for breaching Saudi Arabia's criminal code, being whipped and stoned to death.

Michael Furtado | 14 February 2019  

I am surprised that this topic and its thread has failed so far to attract a response when the possibilities of holding the government to account appear endless. Given that public service security personnel are confined to complying with the Official Secrets Act, in respect of which the advice they give the Opposition Leader is almost certainly circumscribed by the gutless terms in which the government has constrained their policy modus operandi, there must be several opportunities for the Opposition to ask them why Immigration personnel, and not Border Protection Officers, are not interviewing asylum seekers who arrive by air and on what basis a Customs & Excise Officer is authorised to interview them and deport them. Not all accountability mechanisms in a democracy are prorogued or otherwise superseded by antiterrorist-appealing security legislation. Where are the constitutional lawyers and ALP and Green members among ES's impressive assembly of readers who are urgently needed to comment?

Dr Michael FURTADO | 17 February 2019  

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