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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.

Diaspora

Sadistic people smuggler who raped and murdered migrants in Libyan desert sentenced to life in prison

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Telegraph — An Italian court has sentenced to life imprisonment a sadistic people smuggler who raped, tortured and murdered migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Osman Matammud, 22, from Somalia, was found guilty of multiple counts of murder, abduction for ransom and sexual violence against young women and girls.

Matammud was arrested a year ago after being recognised by fellow Somalis in a migrant reception centre in Milan.

He was almost lynched before police stepped in and arrested him.

He had crossed the Mediterranean in a boat full of migrants and had tried to pass himself off as an asylum-seeker.

He was accused of the horrific abuse of migrants at a squalid detention camp at Bani Walid in the Libyan desert, 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, with prosecutors comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

During his trial in Milan, 17 witnesses told the court how they had been raped, beaten or tortured by Matammud. He will spend the first three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement.
He was sentenced after a five-hour deliberation by the Court of Assizes in Milan.

He had denied all the charges and his lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. His trial revealed the squalid conditions and violent abuse endured by migrants as they try to cross the Sahara on their way to the coast of Libya, from where they pay smugglers to send them in boats towards Italy.

“I’m not Somali, I’m not Muslim – I’m your boss,” he allegedly told migrants and refugees when they arrived at the camp.

Several Somali women told investigators in Italy that they had been repeatedly raped by Matammud, who is from Mogadishu. The violence was in part to exert pressure on their families to pay more money for their passage across the Mediterranean.

Matammud would allegedly place plastic bags on the backs of migrants and set them alight so that molten plastic blistered their skin.

One teenage girl told Milan prosecutors: “The first night, he came into the hangar, he grabbed me and he ripped off my clothes in front of everyone. He penetrated me. I fainted but when I came to, there was blood everywhere. I was raped many times by him – every night.”

“In a career spanning 40 years, I’ve never come across such horrors. And what is going on in Bani Walid is going on in all the transit camps,” said chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who has spent much of her career fighting the Mafia.

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Human Rights

European Commission seeks to resettle 50,000 refugees

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The European Commission has unveiled a new plan that would allow for 50,000 refugees – mostly from a host of African countries – to be resettled to Europe over the next two years.

The proposal on Wednesday by the European Union’s executive branch involves admitting asylum seekers under the bloc’s resettlement programme, which was introduced at the height of a major refugee crisis in 2015.

“We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys,” European Union Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels.

The commission said that it had set aside 500 million euros ($590m) to support the resettlement effort. Member states will be free to participate in the scheme on a voluntary basis.

The EU’s executive arm said that while resettlement from Turkey and the Middle East is to continue, an increased focus should be put on resettling vulnerable people from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.

“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” Avramopoulos said.

23,000 people resettled

Libya is the main jumping-off point for many people willing to brave potentially dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean in search of better lives in Europe. Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger – one of the main migrant transit countries in Africa – all border Libya.

Resettlement is managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects refugees who have a continued need for international protection.

European countries are individually responsible for deciding on resettlement numbers so they cannot be legally bound by Brussels to take more people in.

Last year, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Somalia.

The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, mainly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.

The resettlement programme is different from the EU’s compulsory refugee quotas, which involved moving asylum seekers who had already reached Italy and Greece to other EU countries.

The latter scheme, which ended on Wednesday, saw just 29,000 people out of a planned 160,000 shared out around EU states to ease the pressure on the overstretched Greek and Italian authorities.

The commission also said it wants to ensure that those not permitted to stay in Europe are returned to their home countries more quickly.

“We have to be clear and brutally honest, people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned,” Avramopoulos said.

He also said that the commission would propose a temporary extension to allow countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and non-EU country Norway to keep systematic ID checks in place.

Schengen border controls

Separately, the EU also released plans on Wednesday to allow countries in the passport-free Schengen area to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.

Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders.

“Under today’s proposals, member states will also be able to exceptionally prolong controls if the same threat persists,” the commission said in a statement.

Avramopoulos however said this should be a “last resort”, and that keeping the Schengen area open for travel should be a priority.

Several countries, including France and Germany, have called for the extension after a series of attacks. France reinstated the checks after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Refugees Unsafe in Kenya and Elsewhere

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“Wako” fled Ethiopia for Kenya in 2012, after his release from prison. He had been locked up for two years after campaigning for the Oromo People’s Congress, an opposition party that has often been targeted by the government.

In Kenya, he hoped to be safe. But six months later Ethiopian officials kidnapped him in Nairobi and brought him to Ethiopia’s notorious Ziway prison, where he was mistreated and tortured, before being released. He fled to Kenya a second time.

When I spoke to him in Kenya, he said he planned to travel overland to South Africa. He hoped for better safety there.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of harassment and threats against Ethiopian asylum seekers in Kenya and elsewhere since 2010. In a recent letter to the Kenyan police, to which they have not responded, we describe how asylum seekers were assaulted, detained, and interrogated before Ethiopian officials in Nairobi, and forced to return to Ethiopia. Many also received threatening phone calls and text messages from Kenyan and Ethiopian phone numbers.

In private, some Kenyan police told us that Ethiopian Embassy officials in Nairobi have offered them cash to arrest Ethiopians. Ethiopian refugees said Ethiopian officials tried to recruit them to inform on others, promising land, protection, money, and resettlement to the US or elsewhere.

Threats to fleeing Ethiopians are not limited to Kenya. Community leaders, social media activists, opposition politicians, and refugee protection workers have been harassed in other countries. Human Rights Watch has documented abductions of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers from Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere.

High-profile opposition figures with foreign citizenship have also been handed to Ethiopian authorities without a legal process, including a British citizen detained in Yemen, a Norwegian citizen in South Sudan, and a Somali national handed over last month by Somalia’s government.

In Somaliland, we recently spoke to 10 asylum seekers who were forced back to Ethiopia during one of the frequent roundups of Oromo in Somaliland. Eight said they were tortured upon their return to Ethiopia. Many described harassment from Ethiopian embassy officials and indifference from the UN refugee agency.

All this creates a climate of fear and mistrust amongst Ethiopian refugees, preventing them from living normal lives, going to working or even applying for asylum.

The UN refugee agency and host countries should work harder to ensure Ethiopians fleeing torture and persecution can safely access asylum processes and be safe from the long reach of Ethiopian officials.

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