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MONDAY marks the third anniversary of a deal struck between the European Union and Libya which has caused tens of thousands of refugees to be pushed back to a war zone — in contravention of international human-rights law.
At a meeting in Valletta, Malta, on February 3 2017, EU leaders met to discuss human trafficking and “measures to stem the flow of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.”
The result of the meeting was the Malta Declaration, part of which states that “priority will be given to … training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coastguard and other relevant agencies.”
According to analysis by migrant researcher Matteo Villa at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, “around 40,000 people have been intercepted at sea and brought back to Libya” since the 2017 agreements with Libya.
The civil refugee-rescue fleet — a small collection of NGOs that have been the main actors carrying out search-and-rescue missions in the central Mediterranean since April 2019 — condemned the EU’s support for the Libyan Coastguard.
Sophie Beau, international vice-president of SOS Mediterranee — which, along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), operates the rescue ship Ocean Viking — said that the declaration “laid the foundation for a massive breach of international law, financed by European taxpayers’ money.
“While the European Union pulled back from saving lives at sea over the past years,” Ms Beau said, “they simultaneously financed, trained and equipped the Libyan Coastguard to intercept people fleeing the country.
“They are returning them to a cycle of violence and abuse in war-torn Libya.
“Rescued people on board endlessly report to us shocking experiences of torture, rape, slavery and even executions, and most of the survivors are hurt or traumatised.”
Axel Steier, co-founder of the German refugee rescue charity Mission Lifeline, told the Morning Star that Europe’s interests are clear: keep refugees away.
“Europe’s incantations of ‘We fight the smugglers’ are of no use,” Mr Steier said.
“As long as there are no legal entry routes, people will continue to flee across the sea.”
Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which all EU member states are signatories, states: “No contracting state shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where [their] life or freedom would be threatened on account of [their] race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
Alarm Phone, an activist network providing support to people attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, was equally damning.
“We do not doubt that Italy and Europe will continue to be the major collaborator with the cruel practices of the so-called Libyan Coastguard, thereby financing human-rights violations, making sea crossings even more dangerous, and forcibly pushing people back to a war zone and torture,” an Alarm Phone spokesperson told the Star.
“Italy and Europe are therefore fully responsible for the violence, deaths at sea and human-rights violations. By delegating to Libya they hide and deny their responsibility.
“But people on the move do not have a choice. In January alone, despite bad weather conditions, thousands of people made the deadly journey across the sea to flee war and violence.
“They do not have a voice in the conferences and deals between the EU and Libya, but many still bravely succeed in reaching Europe.
“We listen to them calling us in their hardest moments, struggling at sea in unseaworthy boats. We will continue to organise ourselves as part of the civil fleet for freedom of movement.”
Oxfam has accused the EU of using its aid money to Africa, particularly its emergency trust fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa, as a policy tool to lower migration to Europe.
“Since July 2017,” a report released last week states, “nearly €90 million [£75.6m] has been released through the EUTF for Africa to train, equip and support the capacity of the Libyan coastguard to intercept migrants at sea and land borders …”
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