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Amnesty International: Libya No Place to Trust With Migrants

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PARIS — Europe has made a dangerous turn on the Mediterranean Sea as it looks to Libya for help in slowing the number of migrants attempting to reach the continent in flimsy boats, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.
The organization called the European Union’s strategy of training the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants “reckless.”

By turning to Libya, a country in chaos that is the jumping-off point for the hazardous journey, the EU has created “A Perfect Storm” — the title of Amnesty’s report — that could hammer often-desperate migrants with a double vengeance. They face the risk of dying at sea or grave human rights abuses once they are returned to Libya and trapped there, the human rights group said.

More than 2,000 migrants to Europe have died at sea so far this year while more than 73,380 have reached Italy, the report said, citing figures from Italy’s Interior Ministry. By year’s end, the number of arrivals is expected to match or exceed the 181,400 who made it in 2016, which was more than in the two previous years, the report said.

EU looks to Libya

The European Union has been casting about for ways to deal with the crisis, notably looking to Libya, which has two rival governments, for help preventing departures. The EU is focusing in particular on equipping and training the Libyan coast guard and Navy to conduct sea rescues and to lead the fight against smuggling and trafficking networks.

Amnesty said it was “deeply problematic” to unconditionally fund and train Libya, where human rights are lacking and the coast guard has been known for violence and even smuggling.

The group cited an August incident off Libya’s coast in which attackers shot at a Doctors Without Borders rescue boat. A U.N panel of experts on Libya later confirmed that two officers from a coast guard faction were involved.

In May, the Libyan coast guard intervened in a search-and-rescue operation another non-governmental organization was performing. The coast guard officers threatened migrants with weapons, took command of their wooden boat and took it back to Libya, Amnesty reported.

“The current situation with the Libyan coast guard is absolutely outrageous,” Iverna McGowan, who leads Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said in an interview in Brussels. “It is unconscionable that the EU … would allow certain rescue operations that we know are inadequate and trust that with people’s lives.”

The worst may go unseen, McGowan said. “People who are disembarked in Libya are going back to unlawful detention centers where they are facing torture, rape and other unthinkable abuses,” she said.

Keep NGOs involved

The report argues that NGOs need to continue participating in migrant rescues even though Amnesty says responsibility for the task rests with governments. It makes no mention of the recent threat by an overwhelmed Italy to prohibit some NGOs from bringing migrants to ports in southern Italy.

Amnesty said a “multicountry humanitarian operation” under control of Italy is urgently needed and that use of Libyan resources should be conditional on certain limitations, including no rescue operations outside territorial waters and the transfer of all rescued migrants to EU or other appropriate vessels.

Amnesty is not alone in its concern about relying on Libya to ease the European migrant crisis.

The search-and-rescue director for Save the Children, Rob MacGillivray, said in a statement that rescued migrants have recounted horrors from Libya, including claims of sexual assaults, sales to others for work and whippings and electrical shocks in detention centers.

“Simply pushing desperate people back to Libya, which many describe as hell, is not a solution,” he said.

Precarious conditions

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos conceded at a recent news conference in Paris that the EU is drawing on a country in “very precarious conditions.”

The European Union executive Wednesday beseeched member states to step up their efforts and show goodwill in helping Italy and Greece cope with the surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said, to the applause of legislators at the European Parliament, that “it would already make a world of difference in Europe if every single member state would live up to their commitments to show solidarity.”

The EU made commitments to ease the migrant pressure on Italy and Greece by having other member states take in some of the refugees who have made the dangerous Mediterranean crossing, but several countries in eastern and central Europe have shown little or no appetite for doing so.

Human Rights

Somaliland poet jailed for three years in crackdown on writers

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A poet has been sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland as part of a wide-ranging crackdown against activists and writers.

Naima Abwaan Qorane, 27, was jailed on Sunday for “anti-national activity of a citizen and bringing the nation or state in contempt”.

Prosecutors said she had expressed opinions on social media that undermined the semi-autonomous state’s claim to full independence.

In a second case on Monday, the same court sentenced Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud, a 31-year-old author, to 18 months in prison on charges of “offending the honour of the president.”

The case against Mohamoud was based on a Facebook post saying the “president is a local”, according to the charge sheet seen by activists.

It was offensive to the president because the president was “a national president” and not a local official, the presiding judge said.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 as the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed, but has not been recognised as a fully autonomous state by the international community.

It is effectively self-governing with its own elections, constitution, courts and currency. President Muse Bihi Abdi was elected last year.

Since December there has been a series of arrests and detentions of activists, bloggers and writers. Local human rights workers say at least 12 journalists have been detained, some for up to three weeks.

“The detention of my client was illegal, the charges made against her are politically motivated and the sentence is unfair,” Qorane’s lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, said. “The the judge was not independent and therefore he could not deliver a free trial.”

He said the poet had been threatened during her interrogation. “On one night while Naima Qorane was in [police] detention in Hargeisa, two hooded men entered her cell and threatened that they will rape her if she would not provide passwords of her mobile phone and her social media pages particularly her Facebook. They took all passwords,” he said.

“In March, two [police] and intelligence officers came to Qorane’s cell and demanded her to tell everything and confess her crimes … they threatened that they will bring very strong men who would rape her, and then that they would kill her and dump her body into unknown place. They returned the second night and put a loaded pistol of her forehead and threatened that was her last minute in life.”

Qorane was also denied visits from her family for a number of weeks after her father spoke to the media and, though held for political offences, she was not separated from other detainees. She is now being held in Gabiley women’s prison.

Ahmed Hussein Qorane, Naima’s father, said he was given only limited access to visit his daughter and was not surprised by the sentence. “My daughter is innocent … She has nothing to do with what they alleged. She must be released without condition. They did not allow her to see a doctor. She has bad toothache. They beat her in the detention and her left knee is swollen while she has an injury on her thumb,” he said.

Much of Qorane’s poetry evokes the lost unity of Somalia, but does not explicitly mention Somaliland or its future, supporters say. She read her works at a TEDx conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.

Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chair of the Human Rights Centre-Hargeisa Somaliland, said the imprisonment of Qorane and Mahamoud were contrary to the constitution.

“This shows that the judiciary is being used to suppress critical voices. We are very concerned about the judiciary’s acts that are putting people behind bars for expressing their opinion. Somaliland is a democracy. We have a very good constitution. The government needs to respect that constitution,” he said.

Qorane said in 2016 that she had received death threats and been warned to leave Somaliland. “If it happens – though I am not expecting it – jail was built for people not for animals … I will be released one day and the prison experience is not going to change my views,” she said in a local media interview.

There has been no official statement from the Somaliland authorities.

Said Abdi Hassan, an activist in Somaliland, said Qorane’s sentence was unfair. “She was detained because of her views which everybody has the right to express without fear,” he said. “How can a country claim to be seeking recognition while they disregard rights of the people.

“But we want to tell Naima that even if she is jailed forever, her views will be active. She is a role model for many of our youth by calling for unity and against tribalism.”

Officials contacted in Somaliland said they were unable to comment on the case.

Additional reporting by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin

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Human Rights

Somaliland: Female poet jailed over unity calls

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MIDDLE EAST MONITOR — A court in Somaliland has sentenced a female poet to three-years in jail after she called for unity with Somalia amid ongoing regional tensions, Garowe Online reported yesterday.

Naciima Abwaan Qorane was arrested in January at Igal International Airport upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu where prosecutors claimed she had recited poetry calling for unity.

Qorane was charged by police in Somaliland with “anti-national activity and violating the sovereignty and succession of Somaliland”. Somaliland’s prosecution claimed that Qorane called Somaliland a “region” and “insulted and defamed” the government.

Read: Somalia’s quandary with UAE: A port in Somaliland

“We are very concerned about the conviction and sentence of Naima. Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected by the Constitution of Somaliland,” Guled Ahmed Jama, the director of Human Rights Centre, said.

Regional tension
A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

In a recent struggle for power between the two states, Somalia rejected a $422 million tripartite port agreement between Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) logistics port company DP World as “null and void”.

Tensions escalated when the UAE went ahead with the port deal despite strong opposition. Somalia’s members of parliament voted for a law to officially ban DP World last month.

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Refugees in Indonesia selling sex to survive

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AAP — Homeless mother-of-three, Nimo, fled to Indonesia from Somalia after Islamists killed her family, but with prostitution as the only way to survive, she tearily says her life in Jakarta is “much harder” than her war-torn homeland.

Indonesia has traditionally been a transit nation for asylum seekers but in recent months the UNHCR has been meeting with refugees to tell them they’ll probably never be resettled somewhere else.

That means people such as Nimo face the prospect of spending much longer in the country than they first anticipated. And, for many women, it means working as they’d never imagined – in the sex trade.

Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre spokesman Daniel Webb says the suffering of refugees on our Australia’s doorstep exposes the cruelty of the government’s obsession with so-called deterrence.

“The people our government secretly turns back or frightens away don’t just vanish off the face of the earth – they’re being forced to suffer elsewhere,” he tells AAP.

Nimo, a 32-year-old Somalian refugee, was forced into hiding after the local refugee community discovered she was working as a prostitute.

Some in the conservative Muslim neighbourhood threatened her harm for betraying Islam’s teachings.

The homeless mother says she’s ashamed of the work and is often beaten by men.

“I would like to stop but I have no options,” Nimo tells AAP.

“If I don’t there will be no food for my family.”

Nimo has fallen through the aid safety net.

Some two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

They’re not allowed to work or access social security.

Many sleep in the streets near Jakarta’s already-full immigration detention centre or queue – day after day – at the UNHCR office seeking help.

Others drift from one boarding house to the next begging for food. Some sleep on the steps of a local mosque.

“I could never have imagined this life before,” Nimo says. “There is no hope. I have children and I am a prostitute. This is a really bad life. It’s much harder than Somalia.”

Nimo fled Somalia with her children after Islamists stoned her younger sister to death and then turned their guns on the rest of her family. She was shot during one attack.

Her 10-day journey through Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and across the Malacca Strait, ended after a two-day bus ride to the Indonesian capital in 2015.

Her appeals for help from NGOs and the UNHCR have been refused.

During a recent interview – to discuss her sex work – no assistance was offered. Instead, she was lectured about breaking local laws, and the health risks of prostitution.

UNHCR Indonesia representative Thomas Vargas says recent humanitarian emergencies – such the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh – mean money earmarked for Indonesia is being redirected.

“When there are those types of flashpoints, that’s where the limited funding the UNHCR has globally goes,” he tells AAP.

For refugees in Indonesia, aid is now even harder to come by.

“You have limited funding and you have to help the neediest. That’s the harsh reality. It’s a very tough situation,” Vargas says.

At night refugee women living on the street risk sexual violence.

Refugee Suad, 27, lives in a tight network of laneways near Jakarta’s central shopping district.

The Somalian says men regularly try to force refugee women to go with them for sex.

“When we sleep on the street, West African businessman come to this area. They threaten us and touch us and we are powerless to stop them,” she tells AAP.

“If you don’t say yes they say they can beat you. But I say no, I’m a Muslim, I can’t do it. I am hungry and I want money, but I can’t do that.”

Fear of being labelled a prostitute or shunned causes many women to hide their abuse.

Suad’s family was killed by a bomb in Mogadishu. She says she was abducted, raped and held captive by militants.

After she escaped a local mosque raised the money needed to pay people smugglers.

Suad says in Somalia rape victims are often accused of being prostitutes and are sent away so as not to shame their family or community.

But now, out of desperation, she’s now considering going with men.

“When you don’t have food, when you don’t have shelter, life becomes very hard and that is the only option,” she says.

Mr Vargas says “survival sex” is common among refugees who don’t receive aid or have family to protect them.

“When you are not able to make a living you resort, unfortunately, to these types of survival techniques and that’s a risk refugees have here,” he admits.

Asylum seekers and refugees across the archipelago are protesting their treatment.

But the fact is the UNHCR deals with 65.6 million refugees and forcibly displaced people globally.

The crisis is unlike any seen since World War II, according to Mr Vargas. It’s stretched aid budgets and led to tougher immigration policies in key resettlement nations.

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and Australia’s policy of refusing refugees from Indonesia if they arrived after mid-2014 are clear examples, he says.

It’s created “unpredictability in the (resettlement) system” and left refugees stranded.

Immigration policies based on deterrence and criminalisation – rather than protection and human rights – came under the spotlight at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer says government policies – rather than criminal activity, corruption and dangerous travel – are the major cause of abuses inflicted on refugees.

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