Izza Leghtas

The Guardian: Italy bars two more refugee ships from ports

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

“Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said.

Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

Following Salvini’s decision to prevent the Aquarius from docking, however, Malta quickly followed suit, leaving the vessel stranded at sea until Spain offered to take the ship. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini’s port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

“It will not stop people coming,” said Ruben Neugebauer, of the German charity ship Sea Watch. “They will come anyway, but more of them will die.”

Sea Watch refused last week to take 40 migrants rescued by the US navy ship Trenton off Libya, fearing a fate similar to that of the Aquarius. Trenton waited four days before being allowed to dock in Sicily.

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the dangerous sea journey. 

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini’s stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, accused Salvini last week of cynicism and irresponsibility, but at the same time refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at French ports. 

“Malta and Italy didn’t open their ports, but then most other European governments didn’t help either,” said Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate at Europe for Refugees International. “They are all passing the ball among themselves.“

If the NGO boats are unable to land the people they rescue and cease to operate, Operation Sophia, an EU anti-smuggler mission patrolling the Mediterranean, may take up some of the slack. NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Italy’s port closures come despite an 85% fall in migrant crossings since last year. The decrease is in part the result of the EU and Italy training and funding Libya’s coastguard to intercept vessels.

Read full article in The Guardian, here.

Express: EU CHAOS: Aquarius row highlights long-lasting CRISIS on migration policy

Last weekend, Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denied landing rights to the Aquarius, and over the past week Italy has argued with Malta and France over the fate of its passengers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her own Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy is threatening an escalating coalition crisis.

During a recent visit to Berlin, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that he, Mr Salvini and Mr Seehofer were an “axis of the willing” demanding a tougher stance on immigration.

Tensions over European migration policy, which has never truly been solved since nearly 2.5 million people applied for asylum during the crisis in 2015, have been widening, showing it to be as much a great fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

The latest dispute in Italy now threatens a fragile easing of hostility over migration that has mainly held because of the steep fall in the number of people travelling across the Mediterranean.

Numbers have dropped significantly from one million in 2015 to 40,000 this year, but there are increasing fears that Europe is not prepared for the next migration crisis.

Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said: “It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it. It just puts them to shame.”

When the Aquarius’s passengers dock in Valencia on Sunday, there are worries of more trouble, with far-right group Espana 2000 calling on members to gather at the port on Saturday night.

When asked what could be done to avoid a repeat of the Aquarius row, one diplomat said: “I do not see any solution at this point in time.

“Salving is on a triumph. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep accepting them.

The row over the Aquarius ship has reignited immigration tensions across the continent

The Aquarius row will intensify a debate at the EU summit later this month on efforts to overhaul asylum supply.

An attempt to change the EU’s ‘Dublin’ regulation, where states are responsible for asylum applicants, appears difficult to control, while central and European states have defied a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kurz, who governs the far-right Freedom party, wants Vienna to push harsh policies when it begins its six-month term as President next month and along with Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen, have put forward an idea to send failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

But one diplomat said: “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate.”

This piece originally appeared here

The Guardian: Italy bars two more refugee ships from ports

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

“Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said.

Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

Following Salvini’s decision to prevent the Aquarius from docking, however, Malta quickly followed suit, leaving the vessel stranded at sea until Spain offered to take the ship. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini’s port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

“It will not stop people coming,” said Ruben Neugebauer, of the German charity ship Sea Watch. “They will come anyway, but more of them will die.”

Sea Watch refused last week to take 40 migrants rescued by the US navy ship Trenton off Libya, fearing a fate similar to that of the Aquarius. Trenton waited four days before being allowed to dock in Sicily.

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the dangerous sea journey.

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini’s stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, accused Salvini last week of cynicism and irresponsibility, but at the same time refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at French ports.

“Malta and Italy didn’t open their ports, but then most other European governments didn’t help either,” said Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate at Europe for Refugees International. “They are all passing the ball among themselves.“

If the NGO boats are unable to land the people they rescue and cease to operate, Operation Sophia, an EU anti-smuggler mission patrolling the Mediterranean, may take up some of the slack. NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Italy’s port closures come despite an 85% fall in migrant crossings since last year. The decrease is in part the result of the EU and Italy training and funding Libya’s coastguard to intercept vessels.

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if. I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them EU diplomat

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas. Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month.

Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: Aquarius dispute shows EU leaders at sea over migration

From aboard the Aquarius, somewhere between Sardinia and Spain, Aloys Vimard tells how the ship’s 629 migrant passengers experienced the relief of being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea — then the horror of being denied the right to land in Italy.

“One man threatened to jump into the water because he was so scared of being returned to Libya,” said Mr Vimard, a Médecins Sans Frontières project co-ordinator on the former German coastguard vessel. “He said: ‘I don’t trust you, I would rather die than go back to Libya.’ Everyone was very, very anxious.”

The Aquarius is now sailing towards an emergency safe harbour offered by Spain. But the political storm over the vessel, whipped up by a new government in Rome, shows no sign of abating.

Tension over European migration policy, which has been half-hidden since almost 2.5m people applied for asylum during the 2015-16 crisis, has burst into the open — showing it to be every bit as much an existential fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.

Since Matteo Salvini, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister and leader of the far-right league, denied landing rights to the Aquarius, Italy has argued with Malta and sparred with France over the fate of its passengers. Criticism from President Emmanuel Macron sucked Rome and Paris into a diplomatic row.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy threatened a full-blown coalition crisis. Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, added fuel to the fire during a visit to Berlin by declaring that he, Mr Seehofer and Mr Salvini were an “axis of the willing” demanding a harder line on migration.

The disputes threaten a fragile detente over migration that has held mainly because of the steep fall in the numbers coming across the Mediterranean: they have dropped from 1m in 2015 to fewer than 40,000 this year, mainly due to a squeeze on travel via Turkey and Libya. It stokes a sense that Europe is ill-prepared for the next migration crisis— which many see as a matter of when, not if.

"I do not see any solution at this point in time. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them," EU diplomat.

“It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it,” said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International. “It just puts them to shame.”

The Aquarius’s long-suffering passengers may yet face more problems when they dock in Valencia on Sunday morning. There are worries of trouble once those rescued — more than 500 of whom have now been transferred to two Italian ships — disembark. España 2000, a far-right group, has called on members to gather on Saturday night at the port.

The Aquarius row has underscored what one diplomat brands the “Gordian knot” of Europe’s migration disputes. There is no EU authority with the power to interpret — still less enforce — where international maritime law dictates a rescue ship should dock.

“I do not see any solution at this point in time,” the diplomat said, when asked what could be done to prevent a repeat of the Aquarius tug of war. “Malta [by far the smallest EU state] cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep on accepting them.”

The Aquarius affair will intensify an already fractious debate due at an EU summit this month on long-running efforts to overhaul asylum policy.

An attempt to reform the EU’s so-called Dublin regulation, on which states are responsible for asylum applicants, seems intractable. Central and northern European states including Hungary have resisted a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kurz has raised the stakes by signalling that Vienna will push harsh policies when it starts its six-month term as EU president next month. Mr Kurz — who governs with the far-right Freedom party — and Lars Lokke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, last week raised the idea of sending failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.

The tough rhetoric has frustrated European envoys who argue calm consideration is the only way to win a comprehensive pan-EU settlement on migration. “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate,” said one diplomat. “We need to make things a bit more rational.”

Perhaps nowhere is this felt more than in Germany, where Ms Merkel has warned that a failure to solve the migrant and asylum crisis will put fundamental tenets of EU life — the free movement of people — at stake. But as her political opponents realise, her authority has been undermined by the fallout from her “open doors” policy in 2015 and 2016, when Germany let in more than 1m refugees.

The EU also faces growing pressure over its anti-migration efforts on Libya, which have been crucial to cutting arrivals in Italy. The UN Security Council last week imposed sanctions on six alleged people-traffickers including Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, a local commander in Libya’s EU-trained coastguard. 

Recommended Review Non-Fiction Europe’s migrant crisis, up close and personal A UN panel of experts has accused Mr Milad’s unit of being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU has said it did not train Mr Milad, but has not responded to repeated questions from the FT on whether it trained anybody under his command.

Defenders of EU policies say it has invested in efforts to give human rights training to coastguards, monitor their behaviour and improve conditions in migrant detention centres.

On the European home front, diplomats point to progress in areas such as accelerating and co-ordinating asylum procedures, and identifying safe countries of return.

But the Aquarius case has shown once again how quickly the trouble on migration in Europe can blow in — and how grave the political and human consequences can be.

“We were left adrift during 48 hours without any instructions, any idea of what would happen,” said MSF’s Mr Vimard, speaking as the ship continued its fraught voyage to Valencia. “When you see authorities put political considerations above the safety of the people, it’s really shocking.”

Anadolu Agency: New secretive deal between UN, Myanmar smells foul

One million Rohingya survivors of the Myanmar genocide, who took refuge across the borders in the neighboring Bangladesh, remain largely unpersuaded by the news of the latest repatriation deal the United Nations agencies have signed with their perpetrators in Naypyidaw, and openly call for “UN Security Forces” to guarantee safe return to their homelands in the Western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

On 6 June, the two UN agencies with mandates for refugee protection and “development” inked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Myanmar, a hybrid military-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi regime. Knut Osby, UN’s man in Yangon, took to the Twittersphere, putting the spin that “Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomes the agreement”, whose content is treated as if it were Myanmar’s top national security secret. Additionally, Mr. Osby, who holds the assistant secretary general position, tried to assure the Rohingya refugees via the mass media that UN would be pressing for “group identity” recognition by Myanmar and a “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” return.

Leading INGOs, including the Nobel Peace Prize winning Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Washington-based Refugees International, headed by Eric Schwartz, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees and Migration, issued statements, stressing the total absence of necessary conditions and injecting a dose of reality as if to pre-empt the typically phony reactions of ‘welcome’ that pervade diplomatic quarters. Both organizations express varying degrees of valid skepticism about the MOU. The conditions on the ground indicate no semblance of physical safety for any returning Rohingyas. There is no indication that the official acceptance of Rohingya by Myanmar as an integral ethnic minority of the Union is forthcoming, especially when one remembers the national standing Rohingyas had enjoyed as a group until the early years of the military rule in the 1960’s. And there is little prospect for their re-integration into the predominantly Buddhist society where the most powerful Senior General Min Aung Hlaing publicly declared his genocidal intent, that the presence of the Rohingya in N. Rakhine was an “unfinished business” from the pogroms of the Second World War.

In addition to the frightening prospects of being marched back to Myanmar’s “killing fields”, what has truly unnerved the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh -- thousands have been in refugee camps in Bangladesh since the early 1990’s as they fled the earlier waves of violent persecution -- about this latest UN-Myanmar refugee deal is this: UN agencies -- the UNDP, the UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) -- have a dismal record when it comes to standing up for the Rohingya in the last 40 years since the UNHCR first became involved in the repatriation process in the summer of 1978.

The UNHCR operates in both countries at the pleasure of the governments in Dhaka and Naypyidaw, neither of which is a signatory to the Refugee Conventions. The UN’s rotating international staff in Myanmar may lack the institutional memory about their uncomfortable role in the broken sacred principle of non-refoulment, but those Rohingya who were forcibly repatriated have not. The UN agency whose principal mandate is protection of the refugees was in fact in no position to stand up for the most vulnerable Rohingyas sandwiched between the perpetrating Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In the decades that followed the 1990’s repatriations, the UN’s refugee watchdog had consistently put keeping good relations with host governments in order to secure access -- or “pragmatic humanitarianism” -- above its own organizational mandate of protection. That is why the UNHCR, and all other UN agencies operating in Myanmar, have had an open, if unwritten, directive for all staff to comply with regarding Myanmar’s refusal to use the term ‘Rohingya’. So the staffs of all UN agencies operating in Myanmar avoid using the word ‘Rohingya’ in all their communications seen or heard by Myanmar officials. On the eve of Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of the N. Rakhine state, the WFP reportedly recalled its July 2017 report about the semi-famine like conditions in which 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of 5 were living at the “request” of the Myanmar government.

Specifically, UN agencies in Myanmar lead an organizational double-life, speaking in two different scripts: one, tailored to placate the host regime by not calling Rohingyas by the group’s ethnic name in meetings and interactions with Myanmar authorities, who have attempted to systematically erase the group’s identity from Myanmar’s collective consciousness, history and official records; the other one to please the ears of global human rights organizations and Rohingya campaigners internationally by calling the group by their proper name, Rohingyas.

At the level of individual management of the UN’s in-country team, the last UN Resident Coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien, opted to maintain cordial relations with Myanmar leaders and prioritizing (business-friendly) development approach over human rights, an act which undermined the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s policy of Human-Rights-First, which was adopted as a result of the widespread failures of UN agencies during the last phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, where Colombo was accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide against a Hindu Tamil minority group. Specifically, Lok-Dessallien commissioned an internal report entitled “The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state” but subsequently “suppressed” the report. The report’s recommendations included the call for frontloading human rights with respect to the oppressed Rohingya group, pointing out the UN’s ill-preparedness in the face of (likely) mass atrocities against the group and enjoining taking a firmer stance on the state’s egregious rights abuses in the Rohingya area.

The UN had since replaced the disgraced Resident Coordinator with Knut Osby, significantly increased its Myanmar budget and elevated its office in Myanmar one-notch up the UN bureaucracy to the level of Assistant Secretary General-ship.

The UN’s reputation -- and most specifically the reputation of the UNHCR and the UNDP -- is on the line in Myanmar, and beyond. Any part they play in facilitating returns from Bangladesh to Myanmar is risky, when returns could potentially result in another round of mass killings, further decades of containment in concentration camps or deliberate slow starvation. The UN agencies simply must place protection and human rights first this time around. The signs of a new secretive deal do not bode well for the Rohingya survivors. The newly-organized UN in Myanmar has even shelved the organization’s own governing principles of transparency and inclusivity, as evidenced by the freshly-inked MOU with Myanmar. Myanmar is now a suspect in the eyes of the International Criminal Court and international law circles. In apparent compliance with the demands for secrecy typically made by Myanmar’s military-controlled National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the UN has not made public the MOU for scrutiny. Neither has the UN included Rohingyas in any stage of the negotiations over the MOU, nor spelled out their future role. There is then little wonder that the Free Rohingya Coalition, the emerging global network of the widely recognized Rohingya representatives, with deep roots in their communities, both inside Myanmar and in diaspora, including Bangladesh, cry foul against the MOU, which remains shady.

The UNHCR have added a fourth adjective -- “sustainable” -- to the mainstreamed mantra of “voluntary, safe and dignified”. To make the fourth adjective viable, the UN must listen to Rohingya voices that call for a “protected return to a protected homeland in Myanmar”.

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: UN sanctions target alleged Libya people traffickers

By Michael Peel and Heba Saleh 

The UN has slapped sanctions on six alleged human traffickers in Libya, including a regional commander in the country’s EU-trained coastguard.

The Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two Eritreans and four Libyans in response to a Dutch proposal, in a sign of European concerns about abuses of migrants and the flow of refugees along the central Mediterranean route to Italy. It is the first time the UN has used sanctions against human traffickers.

The most prominent target is Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, head of a regional coastguard unit that a UN panel of experts says has been “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms”. The EU said it had not trained Mr Milad, a former militia leader in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammer Gaddafi, the late dictator. It did not provide information on whether it had trained other personnel in his unit.

Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said the UN move highlighted broader questions over European support for anti-migration efforts in Libya, where abuses are rife in detention centres holding people taken off boats intercepted by coastguards.

“The people who were abused by [Mr Milad] are the very kind of people Europe is trying to stop reaching its shores,” said Ms Leghtas. “The overt imperative of preventing people arriving in Europe at any cost has to stop.” 

The EU said the more than 200 Libyan coastguards it trained had gone through a “thorough and robust vetting procedure”. It added that it had been working “tirelessly” on fighting people-trafficking and smuggling networks.

But the Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee said Mr Milad’s coastguard division was “consistently linked with violence against migrants”. Several witnesses in criminal investigations have stated they were picked up by armed men on a coastguard ship used by Mr Milad and taken to a detention centre where they were held in brutal conditions and subjected to beatings, the committee said.

The UN list also includes two alleged militia leaders in Zawiya, a city west of Tripoli where Mr Milad is coastguard commander. The fourth Libyan is Mus’ab Abu-Qarin, who is accused of organising sea crossings for more than 45,000 people in 2015 alone. Mr Qarin allegedly organised a journey in April 2015 that ended in a shipwreck in the Sicilian channel, killing 800 people, the sanctions committee said.

One of the Eritreans, Ermias Ghermay, is the subject of Italian arrest warrants issued in 2015 in relation to the alleged smuggling of thousands of migrants under inhumane circumstances. Those voyages include an October 2013 shipwreck near the island of Lampedusa in which 266 people died.

Libya is split between two rival governments based in the east and west, and control in many parts lies in the hands of local militias. Some of the armed factions have turned to people smuggling as a lucrative business, exploiting proximity to Europe and the lack of effective authority.

In some areas, militias act as the self-styled coast guard, intercepting boats and detaining migrants, often subjecting them to torture and extortion.

In December, the African Union said that between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants were thought to be in at least 40 detention centres across Libya. Last year, Amnesty International accused Libya’s coast guard of “violent and reckless” conduct during interceptions. It cited an incident in which some 50 people drowned after the coast guard intervened during a rescue attempt by a ship operated by a non-governmental agency called Sea-Watch.

In May, more than a hundred migrants, who had been kidnapped and held captive by human traffickers near the western town of Beni Walid, managed to escape. However, they shot at by their captors and at least 15 were said to have been killed.

Survivors, mostly teenagers from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, told Medecins Sans Frontieres, the French charity, that some of them had been held for up to three years.
 

This piece originally appeared here.

News Deeply: For Refugees Detained in Libya, Waiting is Not an Option

Niger has halted refugee evacuations from Libya after E.U.resettlement promises were not kept. Izza Leghtas from Refugees International calls for urgent action with lives at stake.

WHEN WE MET in Niger last month, Helen* described the horrific year she had spent in Libya. She talked of the brutality of human smugglers, of being detained with hundreds of others in deplorable conditions without enough food.

The 20-year-old Eritrean is one of roughly 1,000 refugees from East Africa who have been evacuated by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) from Libya’s detention centers to its southern neighbor, Niger. That program is now under threat.

While Helen has made it to the safety of Niger, she is deeply concerned about the people she left behind. She told me she has received desperate phone calls from them wondering when they might be evacuated. “They say, It’s like we are alive, but we are dead,” she said.

Niger generously agreed to host these refugees temporarily while European countries process their asylum cases far from the violence and chaos of Libya and proceed to their resettlement. In theory it should mean a few weeks in Niger until they are safely transferred to countries such as France, Germany or Sweden, which would open additional spaces for other refugees trapped in Libya.

But the resettlement process has been much slower than anticipated, leaving Helen and hundreds of others in limbo and hundreds or even thousands more still in detention in Libya. Several European governments have pledged to resettle 2,483 refugees from Niger, but since the program started last November, only 25 refugees have actually been resettled – all to France.

As a result, UNHCR announced last week that Niger authorities have requested that the agency halt evacuations until more refugees depart from the capital, Niamey. For refugees in Libya, this means their lifeline to safety has been suspended.

Many of the refugees I met in Niger found themselves in detention after attempting the sea journey to Europe. Once intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, they were returned to Libya and placed in detention centers run by Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The E.U. has prioritized capacity building for the Libyan coast guard in order to increase the rate of interceptions. But it is an established fact that, after being intercepted, the next stop for these refugees as well as migrants is detention without any legal process and in centers where human rights abuses are rife.

David*, a 26-year-old refugee from South Sudan, told me he spent 17 hours at sea before he and more than 100 others were picked up by the Libyan coast guard and taken to a detention center in Tripoli. David said that he and other sub-Saharan Africa refugees and migrants were given worse treatment than others because of their skin color. He said that once, when he was unwell, he waited in line to be taken to a clinic. He recalled that, even though he had arrived earlier, the guard in charge took three men from Morocco first. “[When] I said I came here before them, [the guard said], ‘You’re black, you’re a slave.’”

To be clear, evacuating refugees from Libya and resettling them from Niger is a humanitarian necessity. It does not absolve European governments of their responsibilities to push for an end to Libya’s criminalization of irregular migration and detention of refugees and undocumented migrants. European governments work very hard at great expense to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This includes support for a system that picks up refugees and migrants at sea and deposits them to captivity and abuse.

For the full article, click here. 

UNHCR: The Refugee Brief – 7 Mar 2018

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Aid trucks forced to flee Eastern Ghouta without unloading.The delivery of desperately needed food and medical supplies to Douma in Eastern Ghouta on Monday had to be cut short when the area came under attack. As a result, 14 out of 46 trucks could not be unloaded and nearly half of the food carried by the convoy couldn’t be delivered. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “safe and unimpeded access” for other aid convoys, including a second one planned for Douma on Thursday. Aid workers who were part of Monday’s convoy reported that residents are spending much of their time in cold, cramped basements with no proper sanitation or access to safe drinking water. Children told UNICEF staff they were getting by on one meal a day of wheat, sugar and water.

More resettlement places needed for refugees evacuated from Libya. EU member states promised an “emergency operation” to evacuate refugees and migrants stuck in Libyan detention centres at a summit in November, but so far European countries have only offered 430 resettlement places for the 1,020 refugees and asylum seekers transferred from Libya to Niger by UNHCR. Addressing the European Parliament on Monday, UNHCR’s regional head for North Africa, Karmen Sakhr said the agency had been advised that “until more people leave Niger, we will no longer be able to evacuate additional cases from Libya”. Izza Leghtas of Refugees International spoke to some of the refugees evacuated to Niger from detention centres in Libya. One Somali woman, who gave birth while in detention, described not seeing the sun or the sky for five months. Although grateful to have found safety in Niger, she worries about those left behind.

For the full article, click here. 

PassBlue: Why Turkey’s Model Work Permits for Refugees Don’t Actually Work

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A major problem with Turkey for the millions of refugees there, it has a model work permit system for the newcomers, but it still bars them from the country’s labor market. Such problems can be overcome, experts contend, so that the refugees can work for decent wages in Turkey.

Izza Leghtas, a Refugees International senior advocate, and Kirsten Schuettler, a senior program officer at the World Bank, discussed these challenges for refugees in Turkey at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University on Jan. 22. Leghtas, noting that Turkey hosts the largest refugee population in the world, at 3.5 million, of whom 3.2 million are Syrians, shared her recent report, “I Am Only Looking for My Rights; Legal Employment Still Inaccessible for Refugees in Turkey.”

Many outsiders think that refugees live mostly in camps, which is hardly true in Turkey, Leghtas explained. In fact, Istanbul, despite being an expensive city of 14 million residents, is a metropolis that attracted many refugees at first or who gravitated to it eventually. About 530,000 officially registered Syrian refugees live in Istanbul, although the total number may well be more than 700,000.

Article 17 of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Schuettler pointed out in a policy brief that she wrote with two others, gives refugees “the most favorable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engagement in wage-earning employment.”

However, the brief, titled “Refugees’ Right to Work and Access to Labor Markets,” also says “some countries completely legally bar refugees from work, be it as an employee or starting a business.”

Turkey, it appears, is not one of those countries, yet high legal barriers keep employers from recruiting refugees.

In early 2016, Turkey allowed Syrians access to its labor market through a work permit system. Yet refugees themselves reported they received limited or no information about it, and only about 14,000 permits have been issued so far. An employer who wants to hire a refugee must prove that no Turkish national is available; must request and pay $138 for the work permit; pay refugees at least the minimum wage; and contribute to social security and file tax reports — all of which amounts to a disincentive.

Nonetheless, male refugees take menial jobs in textiles, construction, restaurants and tourism, many scraping by as day laborers in the informal labor sector for below-minimum wages or intermittent pay. Female refugees who venture to work risk sexual harassment. In the textile industry especially, employers prefer child workers, since they are cheap sources of labor.  One consequence: 41 percent of refugee children are not in school.

Syrians and other Arabic-speaking refugees face further problems if they don’t know Turkish. Further complicating the matter, in 2017, Turkey prohibited nongovernmental organizations from offering Turkish-language lessons unless “they have a protocol with the Ministry.” Local authorities can provide lessons, but at least 12 people must form a group for a class to start.  Since many refugees work 12 to 14 hours a day, their time is limited for classes.

Leghtas noted that non-Syrian refugees face additional hardships. Turkey has identified 62 smaller cities around the country in which non-Syrians can live legally, but they are restricted from living in Istanbul, Ankara, the capital, or in Izmir, Turkey’s third most-populous city. With fewer chances for jobs where they can live, some non-Syrians leave their remote locales for the out-of-bounds cities but must travel back to their city to report every two weeks.

Moreover, non-Syrians who work beyond their assigned cities unauthorized fear filing complaints of exploitation, harassment or similar problems since they work without proper registration. The non-Syrian refugees come from such places as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

To manage the situation better for refugees in Turkey, Leghtas’s recommendations include reducing or waiving the work permit fees; educating employers about the permit policy and creating incentives for them to hire refugees; facilitating Turkish-language training for refugees of every age and specialized training for women; tailoring some of the European Union’s financial assistance to foster employment and self-reliance even among non-Syrian refugees; and getting the United States to support the same measures and resettle more refugees affected by clear vulnerabilities such as LGBTI refugees, single women and female-headed households.

Two-thirds of refugees worldwide live in unfavorable circumstances that have lasted more than five years, Schuettler pointed out. Technically, they are called “protracted refugee situations.”

So despite its limits, the developing work permit system in Turkey could be used to bridge the divide between short-term, stop-gap humanitarian assistance for refugees and longer-term development strategies, possibly leading to more stability. To the extent that a host country reduces the dependency of refugees and enables them to become productive members of society, it may decrease the fiscal burden that refugees place on the country.

But of the 145 countries that are party to the 1951 UN Convention, Schuettler said, only 75 formally grant refugees the right to work under Articles 17 to 19 of the Convention or through their own domestic laws. In sharp contrast, by law some countries totally bar refugees from working either as an employee or by starting a business.

Countries receiving refugees need to appreciate the potential that can be gained by adapting or improving ways to manage newcomers to introduce more refugees into their formal labor markets. Then, everyone wins.

This piece originally appeared here

 

Pass Blue: Why Turkey’s Model Work Permits for Refugees Don’t Actually Work

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A major problem with Turkey for the millions of refugees there, it has a model work permit system for the newcomers, but it still bars them from the country’s labor market. Such problems can be overcome, experts contend, so that the refugees can work for decent wages in Turkey.

Izza Leghtas, a Refugees International senior advocate, and Kirsten Schuettler, a senior program officer at the World Bank, discussed these challenges for refugees in Turkey at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University on Jan. 22. Leghtas, noting that Turkey hosts the largest refugee population in the world, at 3.5 million, of whom 3.2 million are Syrians, shared her recent report, “I Am Only Looking for My Rights; Legal Employment Still Inaccessible for Refugees in Turkey.”

Many outsiders think that refugees live mostly in camps, which is hardly true in Turkey, Leghtas explained. In fact, Istanbul, despite being an expensive city of 14 million residents, is a metropolis that attracted many refugees at first or who gravitated to it eventually. About 530,000 officially registered Syrian refugees live in Istanbul, although the total number may well be more than 700,000.

Article 17 of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Schuettler pointed out in a policy brief that she wrote with two others, gives refugees “the most favorable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engagement in wage-earning employment.”

However, the brief, titled “Refugees’ Right to Work and Access to Labor Markets,” also says “some countries completely legally bar refugees from work, be it as an employee or starting a business.”

For the full article, click here. 

Luciadore: What the UN can learn from Turkey about refugees

The subject of refugees always enacts a mix of emotions. Some people believe that refugees detract from the local community; others that they enhance it and give back more than they take from society. I’m in the latter camp but that’s because I’ve undertaken research on the matter. (I’ve made a documentary on the subject.: “Stepping Up: NZ’s response to the refugee crisis. https://www.luciadore.com/blog/stepping-up-nz-s-response-to-the-refugee-crisis).

I continue to do research on the subject. Indeed, I’m undertaking ongoing research with the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRRC) (http://www.canterburyrefugeecentre.org.nz/) where we’re looking at employment and health.

So this article that was published in the Brookings Brief was both timely and enlightening. What will New Zealand learn about the Global Compact for Refugees (GCR).

What the UN can learn from Turkey about refugees

By Jessica Brandt and Kemel Kirisci

As the crisis in Syria enters its seventh year, it shows little sign of abating. The violence there has killed nearly half a million people and displaced more than 11 million others—over six million of them within the country, and roughly five-and-half millionbeyond its borders within the region. Although nearly a million more have sought asylum in Europe, the majority of Syrian refugees reside in neighboring states, which have been called upon to shoulder the social, political, and economic consequences. Approximately 3.5 million are seeking new lives in Turkey. As Syrian regime attacks on the Idlib region mount, there are fears that these numbers may well increase.

Against this backdrop, there is a growing international recognition of the need for new approaches—and new energy behind efforts to identify them. United Nations member states are now in the process of developing a new Global Compact for Refugees (GCR), designed to improve responses to displacement worldwide, which will be adopted when world leaders convene in New York in September of this year. A key component of the GCR is the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), which lays out objectives that include easing pressures on refugee-hosting countries, building refugee self-reliance, expanding access to resettlement, and supporting conditions for refugees to return home voluntarily. It is intended to take “whole of society” approach, bringing together a range of stakeholders for a coordinated response.

The CRRF is being applied in 13 countries. None of them are in the Middle East—despite the considerable experience amassed by frontline states, which together host roughly a quarter of all refugees worldwide. Capturing this knowledge, and ensuring that it informs the Programme of Action that will accompany the CRRF and underpin its implementation, is critical.

A few lessons are immediately evident

First, since the European migration crisis of 2015, Syrian refugees have been seen as a threat to the stability and future of Europe. There has been a concerted effort to keep Syrian refugees close to home with walls, barbed wire, and the deterrent effect of squalid conditions, especially on the Greek islands. The implicit assumption in Europe is that Syrian refugees, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, are more likely to integrate into their host communities in the frontline countries because of cultural affinity. This is a simplistic approach. It fails to recognize challenges resulting from economic, political, social, and even cultural differences between host communities and refugees. A public opinion survey in Turkey completed late in 2017 reveals that 80 percent of Turkish society believes that refugees either “do not resemble at all” or “do not resemble” them culturally. Strikingly, this percentage increases in some parts of Turkey bordering Syria, where locals “share the same geography, religion, sect and even ethnic commonality with Syrians,” as survey author Murat Erdoğan notes.

Second, engagement between humanitarian actors and local authorities is essential. That is in part because of the urbanization of displacement. Today, approximately 60 percent of refugees and at least half of internally displaced people worldwide reside in urban environments. More than 90 percent of Turkey’s refugee population lives outside of traditional refugee camps, almost one million of them in Istanbul and with one city, Kilis, hosting more Syrians than its own population. The Turkish government, civil society, and the municipalities where refugees are concentrated have accumulated rich experience in facilitating integration and managing challenges related to social cohesion.

Cities—and the dense networks of public, private, and civic actors that operate within them—are an inspiring source of innovation. They can also be particularly challenging environments for the displaced, who frequently forgo formal protection when they leave formal camps. In cities, newcomers may find that labor and housing markets are tight, costs are high, social services are strained, and relations with established residents are tense. The latter reality is startling, considering that 75 percent of the Turkish public, according to the above survey, does not agree that it is possible to live in peace with Syrians. Supporting urban projects that mitigate the pressure on public services and nurture a culture of living together (social cohesion) will be essential to managing this resentment.

Turkey and the West

By Kemal Kirişci

In a recent report, “I am Only Looking for my Rights,” senior advocate at Refugees International Izza Leghtas illustrates how, while Turkey’s new system of work permits for refugees is an important step forward, few refugees have benefited and exploitative work in the informal sector remains the norm. Some livelihood programs in Turkey’s urban centers are assisting refugees in the difficult task of accessing legal employment, but there is an urgent need for these programs to be expanded. Her work suggests that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should cooperate with municipal authorities to expand the availability of free Turkish language instruction for adult and child refugees, and to support the creation of community centers in Istanbul where refugees can access employment assistance and information about their rights. The report also makes clear that for legal employment of refugees to become a reality, there must be incentives for employers to hire refugees and the private sector must be involved.

Next month, UNHCR is expected to release a “zero draft” of the GCR. Formal consultations on the text, attended by U.N. Member States, will take place between February and July of this year. During that window, UNHCR should find ways to feed lessons from Turkey and other frontline states into the ongoing discussions. One way to accomplish this would be to commission a detailed report that sheds light on good practices, and share it with member states as part of the formal consultation process. This idea, as well as others, are outlined in a forthcoming brief, “The Global Compact for Refugees: Bringing Mayors to the Table, Why and How.”

Drawing on the experience of Turkey, as well as other frontline states like Jordan and Lebanon, which have also received large numbers of Syrian refugees, will help ensure that the CRRF is as effective as it can be. That’s not just good for the framework’s legitimacy—it’s good for the millions of refugees in search of safety, and for the communities that host them.

For the original article, click here. 

News Deeply: Must-Read Stories on Refugees From 2017

We collected the best stories on refugees from 2017, as selected by refugee and migration experts and the readers and editors of Refugees Deeply.

WE ASKED REFUGEE and migration experts to select their favorite stories on migration and refugees from the past year and explain why they are must-read material. Here is a selection of their choices, as well as some sent in by members of the Refugees Deeply community and our editors’ own favorites. (Let us know what stories you think should also be included via via emailTwitter or Facebook.)

Izza Leghtas

Senior advocate, Refugees International

The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl” by Ben Taub in The New Yorker

I chose this piece because of the extensive research it reflects and the geographic area that Taub covered in the piece. From Benin City to Sicily via Agadez and the Mediterranean Sea, I love that Taub covered the story along the journey of the main character in the piece and so many others. But the main reason this story has stayed with me is that it is so human. Too often, reporting on migration along the Central Mediterranean refers to people as masses, as numbers, and to follow one character and give the reader the time to get to know her is incredibly refreshing. When I read the piece, I had recently returned from Sicily where I was researching the Central Mediterranean migration route, so it is an issue I was already familiar with. But I was deeply moved by Taub’s writing style and the level of care and detail it reflects. I hope we can see more reporting like this.

Read the original article here

ECRE: The reality of legal employment to refugees in Turkey: lack of access and discrimination

The NGO Refugees International has published a report entitled “I Am Only Looking for My Rights: Legal Employment Still Inaccessible to Refugees in Turkey”. Through a field research, refugees’ testimonies and an analysis of the applicable legal and policy provisions, the report examines the challenges and consequences that refugees face when they seek employment in Turkey.

The report explains how Turkish law, despite granting refugees and temporary protection beneficiaries the right to work, establishes a number of practical obstacles to accessing legal employment in practice. As a consequence, refugees become trapped in a cycle of informal work where the risk of exploitation and abuse is high and wages are low. Refugees in Turkey reported working excessively long hours often in difficult working conditions and being paid a faction of their Turkish counterparts. The lack of decent wages for adult refugees pushes many refugee children into the job market as well, instead of attending school. According to the report, 41% of all Syrian children in Turkey do not go to school.

Discrimination is also a key obstacle for refugees when looking for a job. Refugees often face a climate of hostility and negative myths about the impact of refugees on Turkish society. Moreover, the report highlights that since employers must pay a work permit fee of 537 Turkish Liras (118€) in order to employ a refugee, they are often reluctant to do so.

The ability to engage in decent work is a fundamental human right, integral to human dignity and self-respect. Failure to ensure proper access to the labour market hinders the ability of a beneficiary of international protection to successfully integrate into their new society, and leaves them at risk of destitution.

Read the original article here

TIME: Migrants on Greek Islands Are Trapped and Desperate, Report Says

Read the original article here.

Tara John
Aug 15, 2017

Thousands of asylum-seekers in Greece's Aegean islands are stranded in appalling circumstances, according to a new report by Refugees International.

Since a 2016 deal between the E.U. and Turkey, which aims to discourage migrants from crossing the sea to Greece, Turkey has agreed to take back migrants who arrived to Greek islands from its territory. But in reality very few have so far been relocated, according to Refugees International — just 1,210 as of June 13.

The result, says a new report entitled “Like a Prison”: Asylum Seekers Confined to the Greek Islands, is thousands of asylum-seekers trapped in overcrowded and unsafe accommodation on the Greek islands. This "containment" has taken a psychological toll, says the advocacy group, based in Washington, D.C. The report describes how some migrants on the islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos feel trapped and anxious about the lack of available services. " Greece’s policy of containing people on its Aegean islands is having devastating effects on people’s physical and mental health," said Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, said in a statement.

More than 12,000 migrants have crossed from Turkey to Greece this year, according to the IOM, a considerable drop in numbers compared to some 161,000 arrivals during the same period a year before. " Because far fewer people are arriving along this route than in 2015, the EU and Greece are presenting the EU-Turkey agreement as a success"Leghtas said. "The reality is that thousands of people, many of them traumatized from war or persecution, are trapped and unable to get the help they need."

TIME has written about the mental strains placed on migrants languishing in Greece in "Finding Home," a multimedia project which has been following three Syrian refugees since Sept. 2016 as they prepared to give birth and raise a child in foreign countries. Read more here.

TIME: Italy Has a Controversial New Plan to Stop Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean Sea

Read the original article here.

Tara John
Aug 03, 2017

Italy approved a controversial new naval mission to stop migrant smuggling boats from leaving Libya on Wednesday, in an effort to curb the numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

Italy's parliament voted to allow a limited naval mission to support Libya's coastguard in a bid to curb human traffickers, provoking a fierce reaction from the head of rival forces to Libya's U.N-backed government. General Khalifa Haftar, the rogue general who oversees the eastern part of the country, threatened to repel “any naval vessel that enters national waters without permission from the army."

This follows an influx of more than 94,000 migrants arriving to Italy's shores this year, overwhelmingly from North Africa, which according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is slightly higher than the respective totals in 2015 and 2016. The numbers have strained Italy's network of reception centers and has led to a public backlash, which could fuel populist opposition parties in next year's general election.

Here's what to know:

The Italians are joining forces with Libya

"(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions," Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Tuesday, ahead of the Parliamentary vote the following day.

The Italian naval vessel, the Comandante Borsini, entered Libyan waters within hours of the vote. Another vessel is expected to follow in the coming days, but Libya's eastern parliament affiliated with the forces of Haftar opposed the decision. It complained that the vote violated the country's national sovereignty and, according to Arab news network Al Arabiya, Haftar has ordered the bombing of Italian warships. The Italian government called the threat "unrealiable" and "unfounded," according to the news agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia.

The Italian government initially hoped to send six ships to Libya's territorial waters, but plans had to be scaled down following popular protests in Tripoli, Reuters reports. Libyans have reportedly been posting images of Omar al-Mukhtar, a national hero who battled Italian rule in the early 1900s, on social media in response to the Italian presence— reflecting the widespread unease over a former colonial power intervening on domestic affairs. Pinotti said that Italy had no intention of creating a blockade on Libya's coast.

Italian officials believe that sending the boats back to Libya will act as a deterrent, but rights groups are deeply concerned by the move. Refugees International, which is based in Washington, D.C., says returned migrants face detention and abuse at the hands of traffickers and even the coastguard. " It is no secret that migrants and refugees who are intercepted and returned by the Libyan coast guard face horrific abuses in Libya’s migrant detention centers," Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, said in a statement. "By engaging in these operations, the Italian government would be knowingly complicit in these abuses."

The Italian battle with aid groups is escalating

Italian authorities also impounded a migrant rescue ship operated by German aid agency on Wednesday, stepping up tensions over the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that rescue migrants.

Many Italian lawmakers have suggested NGOs which patrol the seas to pick up migrants act as a virtual invitation to make the journey. Luigi di Maio, from the populist 5 Star Movement, likened aid-group's rescue ships to a migrant "sea taxi" around the same time in April when a Sicilian court suggested NGO's colluded with Libyan smugglers. It's a claim NGOs vehemently deny.

In July, Italy's center-left government threatened to close its ports to NGO's operating rescue boats that did not sign a "code of conduct." The seized ship, the Iuventa, is operated by German aid group Jugend Rettet, which is among six out of the nine aid groups operating search-and-rescue activities off Libyan waters to have refused to sign up to the code-of-conduct.

More than 2,200 people have been recorded as dead or missing this year. Aid groups say they are only fulfilling their humanitarian duty to save lives. Ambrogio Cartosio, chief prosecutor in the Sicilian city of Trapani, told reporters on Wednesday that no one has yet been charged and the investigation the German NGO was ongoing. "The evidence is serious," he said, Reutersreports. "We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat's crew."

Numbers of migrants are rising

The IOM says that the number of asylum seekers entering Europe by sea in 2017 (through to July 30) is around 100,000 less than the same period the year before. Italy, however, receives the majority of migrants arriving in Europe due to traffic through the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy's southern coast. The route has been dubbed the "deadliest" in the world by Amnesty International due to the thousands of people recorded as dead or missing in the attempt to cross the sea in flimsy rubber dinghies or rickety wooden vessels.

Italy's migration crisis is further compounded by its neighbors, like Switzerland, Austria and France, tightening their border controls in a bid to prevent migrants crossing the Alps. Italy, which was once a point of transit for migrants moving up to northern Europe, has become a place of settlement.

Circa: Migrants traveling through Libya are suffering at the hands of smugglers

View the original story and video here.

 

July 24, 2017 01:44 PM EDT


Experts say Libya has a migration problem - and bigger than that, they have a smuggling and human trafficking problem.

“Refugees that are basically coming from the east, moving through the Sahara Desert, westward into Libya,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director, Human Rights Watch. “We have from West Africa, including people fleeing Boko Haram in Nigeria, a conflict in Mali, another group of people coming up through Niger, sort of a west-to-east flow. And there is a mixed migration, people who don’t qualify as refugees here as well.”

A new report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says for decades migrants and refugees have traveled to Libya for employment and stability. However, since the fall of regime in 2011, the country has been “roiled by instability and insecurity.”

“People who meet the refugee definition, someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their country of origin, based on their race, religion, nationality, they have a particular protection under international law,” said Frelick. “And a place like Libya, they haven’t signed the refugee convention and doesn’t have any refugee law, you’ve got a problem right at the outset.”

Without local or international law on their side and with few agencies able to aid the increasing number of refugees traveling into Libya, many turn to smugglers in hopes of reaching their final destination.

Izza Leghtas, Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International visited Tunisia and Italy working with migrants and refugees, many who traveled through Libya. In June, she published a report called “Hell on Earth” detailing some of the struggles faced by those traveling out of Africa to reach Europe. 

Using numbers from the UNHCR, the report states, “as of May 24, 2017 more than 50,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of the year, and almost all sea arrivals to Italy depart from Libya.”

Her report also details harsh abuse and mistreatment that both Leghtas and Frelick said plagues the journey across Libya.

“I was really struck by the level of brutality that people described on behalf of these smugglers,” said Leghtas. “People described to us the journey in the Sahara Desert to reach Libya or within Libya because they would be on these trucks that would be moving really fast and they said if someone fell of the truck or if you stopped because you needed to use the toilet they wouldn’t wait for you.” 


The International Organization for Migration has recognized more than 381,000 migrants across Libya, but estimates that number to be between 700,000 and 1 million.

“People would arrange for this, for the smuggler to take them where they need to be, but then what people told us is that the smugglers would keep them for weeks or months in warehouses and on farms in the desert and basically force them to pay money," said Leghtas. "In some cases more money than they had agreed upon and the asylum seekers would tell us that the smugglers would force them to call their families on the phone and then they would beat them up and torture them while they are on the phone and then they would force them to call their families on the phone and then they would beat them up and torture them while they are on the phone so they would cry and scream, and the family members would be under a lot of pressure to transfer them money."

Leghtas said the migrants would often pay smugglers thousands of dollars to transport them.

"I've actually interviewed people who have told me that for them, the most harrowing experience was crossing the Sahara Desert," said Frelick. "They were forced to drink water that the smugglers would put benzene, you know gasoline basically, into, to keep them from drinking too much and then that would make them sick."

Although smuggling and human trafficking are separate by definition, both Frelick and Leghtas say that in many cases people complicit in smuggling end up being trafficked when their fate is no longer in their control.

"People who started, having fled their homes often as refugees, went voluntarily to a smuggler to try and get out of the bad situation they were in, and then along the way, along the course of the journey they've been bought and sold and traded between these guys and the next thing they know they are in a situation that is completely out of their control and they are being subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence," said Frelick.

"We heard that there are women who get basically taken by some of these smugglers who are used for sex," said Leghtas. "There is a huge amount of exploitation, they don't have a choice."

Leghtas said people witnessed other migrants dying from sickness and hunger. She said, "It's hard to even distinguish between the human trafficking and the smuggling because people [can no longer control] their movements anymore.... they're tortured, they're beaten, they are fed whatever they are fed which is not enough. I spoke to a couple of Eritreans in Italy who said they weren't able to walk by the time they got there because they were so malnourished."

Reports from Refugees International, Human Rights Watch and various United Nations groups describe migrants are being detained throughout Libya in official and unofficial capacities. They say that if you enter Libya, even seeking asylum or refuge, it is illegal under their laws. Refugees, asylees, and migrants picked up by police and the coast guard are often taken to detention centers where they can remain for months.

And Leghtas says that abuse on behalf of Libyan officials is widespread. "People in detention centers are often involved with the smugglers, or are even smugglers themselves... One man said, the smuggler is a policeman, the policeman is a smuggler, basically they are all the same."

Since many migrants goal is to reach international waters or Europe, Leghtas says the European Union needs to do more in terms of search and rescue. "NGO's are very involved, the Italian authorities have stepped up and done a lot to save people's lives - this is a dangerous crossing." 

Reports say there have been more than 2,000 migrant deaths so far this year in the Mediterranean Sea.

"This is really a challenge for the EU because they desperately want to partner with somebody in Northern Africa to stem the flow of migrants and asylum seekers into Europe, and yet they don't have any legitimate partner that they can actually work with because many of the guys themselves that purport to be a coast guard may or may not have any authority to do that," said Frelick. "They may put on a uniform, but who are they really and what is the collusion between a state authority, a smuggler, or a trafficker, and they may be one in the same at the end of the day."

Refugees Deeply: E.U. Must Not Fuel ‘Hellish’ Experience for Libya’s Migrants

Read the original article here.

As more refugees reach Italy, describing Libya as “hell,” Europe must ensure its actions and funds are not contributing to these abuses, urges Izza Leghtas from Refugees International. Fresh from research on Lampedusa, she outlines urgent steps for E.U. policy in Libya.

WRITTEN BY Izza Leghtas   PUBLISHED ON Jun. 16, 2017

ON A SUNNY March day on the island of Lampedusa, a group of young men from the West African nation of Guinea sat on a bench overlooking the peaceful port.

Just three days earlier, they had survived the dangerous journey from Libya and were brought by rescuers to the small Mediterranean island. I asked them what Libya had been like. “Libya is hell on earth,” came the answer. “That is the only word to describe it.”

Interviewing refugees and migrants who had recently arrived from Libya, there seemed to be no end to the cruelty they had endured at the hands of ruthless smugglers, detention center staff, members of the Libyan coast guard and criminal gangs.

Many said they had been held for weeks or months in warehouses by smugglers who beat and tortured them and fed them only an occasional piece of bread or a small handful of pasta. Others said they had been detained in appalling conditions in detention centers where food was similarly scarce and beatings were common.

Women and girls are subjected to sexual abuse at all stages of the journey to Europe: in official detention centers, traveling through the Sahara desert and at the hands of people smugglers.

Libya has been in turmoil since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and currently has three competing governments, militias operating across the country and a blossoming people-smuggling trade. Sub-Saharan refugees and migrants face staggering levels of racism and are often called “animals” by locals. Men and women told me how even walking in the street was too dangerous, as they could be kidnapped and sold like commodities.

European leaders, desperate to stem the flow of people arriving on their shores via Libya, have made a priority of preventing departures from the Middle Eastern country. They are working with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and providing training and equipment to the Libyan coast guard as well as funding to international organizations working on the ground.

When the Libyan coast guard encounters a boat carrying refugees and migrants, these individuals are taken back to Libyan territory, where they are detained in migrant detention centers under appalling conditions and severe human rights abuses.

When it comes to finding and implementing solutions for the human rights crisis that refugees and migrants face in Libya, the list of obstacles and challenges is endless. But there are a number of urgently needed measures that European leaders can and should undertake immediately. They are essential if the E.U. and its member states are to ensure that their actions and funding do not result in, or even contribute to, the abuses that lead refugees and migrants to refer to Libya as “hell.”

To be clear, the E.U. is empowering the Libyan coast guard to do something none of its member states could do without violating international law – returning people to Libyan territory and thereby exposing them to horrific abuse.

For this reason, the E.U. must urgently take steps to prevent such abuses from occurring. A first step would be to work with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the deployment of human rights monitors in places where refugees and migrants are forced to disembark on Libyan soil, and in the detention facilities they are taken to. In their talks with the Libyan authorities, the E.U. should also urge them to grant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the U.N. refugee agency free access to refugees and migrants in the centers where they are held.

One stated reason for the actions of E.U. leaders in the Central Mediterranean is the intention to prevent further loss of life at sea. But is saving a man, a woman or a child from drowning, only for them to be taken hours later to a detention center where they may face malnutrition, sexual abuse and deadly beatings, really saving them?

The E.U. is spending more than $146 million on migration-related projects in Libya, part of which has been earmarked to improve conditions in detention centers. Last week, the German foreign minister announcedthat Germany would provide the Libyan authorities with $3.9 million to improve conditions in centers where refugees and migrants are held.

But detention centers where people are deprived of their liberty with no judicial process and no end in sight, albeit with improved ventilation and more toilets, would still violate international law. The E.U. and its member states should insist that the Libyan authorities stop detaining migrants and refugees in closed facilities, or they risk legitimizing this abusive system.

It is no secret that for E.U. leaders, preventing refugees and migrants from reaching Italy via Libya is a priority. But actions that are taken in the name of European citizens and funded with their taxes should not lead to men, women and children becoming trapped in a place where they may face torture, slavery and rape. It is the duty of European leaders to uphold the values of human dignity and fundamental rights on which the E.U. was founded, whether it is north or south of the Mediterranean.

Independent: EU helping force refugees back to ‘hell on Earth’ in push to stop boat crossings from Libya, report finds

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Researchers say EU is disregarding international law and human rights
Lizzie Dearden 6 days ago 253 comments

A new report has accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea.

The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants.

Research by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group warned that the EU’s push to prevent boats leaving the Libyan coast – now the main departure point towards Europe – could fuel horrific abuses.

“The fate of people who are seeking international protection is effectively absent from the plans outlined by EU leaders to tackle the Central Mediterranean route,” its report concluded.

“With the ongoing violence and chaos in Libya, a country that lacks an asylum system and where the rule of law is absent, EU countries must accept people on their territory through orderly, legal processes that are viable alternatives to ruthless criminal networks. 

“The EU and its member states should also ensure that their funding and actions in Libya do not result in or contribute to human rights abuses against refugees and migrants.”

Researchers gathered harrowing testimonies from asylum seekers who had managed to survive the crossing to Europe, which has claimed a record of more than 1,700 lives so far this year.

Among them was Ali, a 17-year-old boy from Gambia who was detained in what he believed was an official detention centre in Zawaiya.

He said UN workers brought food, clothes shoes and other supplies, which were then sold for profit by guards who gave detainees only one portion of bread and a handful of pasta each day.

“The Arab people working in the prison, if someone is sick, they finish them off,” Ali told Refugees International.

“They beat a boy, he vomited blood. I saw it in front of my eyes.”

When another man died after a severe beating, the teenager and other migrants were ordered to bury his body themselves in a shallow grave outside.

During his detention the “boss” of the prison also forced people into to build a house, which Ali and four others did – unpaid – until they were allowed to leave detention and attempt the journey to Europe.

It is one of numerous accounts of forced labour in Libya, where the International Organisation of Migration warned people were being openly traded in “slave markets”.

Smugglers and armed gangs have exploited lawlessness, since the UK and France led a military campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi, to expand their ruthless trade, and it is frequently unclear whether squalid detention centres are run by officials, militias or both.

Ali had already been forced back to Libya once after his boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, which has recently been filmed firing into the air during “rescues” and cutting across humanitarian ships, after allegedly causing drownings and opening fire on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) vessel.

Ali said the armed guards who boarded a dinghy he was travelling on in November 2016 demanded money before “they started to beat people with the guns. They hit me on my head with their guns.”

Humanitarian groups say forcing people back to Libya from international waters is a violation of international law, particularly “non-refoulement” principles that prohibit people being returned to a country where they face torture or other ill-treatment.

But despite training and equipping the Libyan coastguard, the EU appears to have made no move to censure it for venturing outside territorial waters and has not publicly condemned numerous clashes with international ships deployed by commanders in Rome.

As well as torture and killings in detention centres, RI said women and girls in Libya are at particular risk of widespread sexual abuse. 

Rape is so prevalent among migrants in Libya and on journeys to it that some women passing through Ethiopia or Sudan are given a contraceptive injection, but many of those arriving on boats to Italy are pregnant.

Juliette, a 25-year-old woman from Cameroon who spent four months in Libya, told RI that “when someone kidnaps you, he can call his brothers” to tell them he has women and girls. 

“In front of me, men came to take girls away to rape them,” she added. “Especially Nigerian girls.” 

A teenage boy from Ghana said Libyan guards at his detention centre took women away one by one to rape, passing some on to be taken away overnight by unidentified men.

An Eritrean man who had been held by smugglers near Tripoli, said Libyan men abducted a 21-year-old-woman, who later died days after finding out she was pregnant.

In some cases, sexual abuse is used as an alternative to large bribes for release, while other migrants are extorted and forced to call family members abroad for payment.

Izza Leghtas, RI’s senior advocate for Europe and the author of the report, said EU countries know “full well” the dire conditions faced by migrants.

“EU countries can’t send refugees and migrants back to Libya without violating international law, so they’re empowering the Libyan authorities to do so instead,” she added.

Ms Leghtas said abuses by smugglers were well-known but the report’s findings on official detention centres were “particularly worrying” given rising international support.

“The Europeans are so focused on closing down this route that they’re not being responsible,” she told The Independent.

“You can’t tackle one piece the crisis [by stopping sea crossings] and then not follow through.

“The EU should be doing everything it can to help people who are escaping this nightmare.”

RI’s report called on the EU to urge Libya to end the criminalisation of migration, open detention centres and ensure returned refugees are registered and treated in accordance with international law, while calling for a UN investigation into alleged sexual abuse at detention centres.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it was unable to comment on the findings before formally receiving the report.

Brussels is supporting initiatives led by Italy to strengthen cooperation with Libya’s fragile UN-backed Government of National Accord – one of two governments still vying for power in the country.

Following a show of commitment at a summit attended by EU leaders in Malta in February, a €90m (£80m) programme to “reinforce protection and resilience of migrants, refugees and host communities in Libya” was adopted last month.

More than half of the funds are allocated to disembarkation points for migrants forced back by the Libyan coastguard, detention centres, healthcare, protection for vulnerable groups and 15,000 “voluntary humanitarian returns” to countries of origin.

The plan envisions the creation of unspecified “safe spaces” as an alternative to detention – although it was unclear how they would be created – assistance and information at transit points and increased monitoring of migration flows.

Another €42m (£37m) is going to “socio-economic development” for Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which is itself accused of working with smugglers and militias, as well as perpetrating abuse in detention centres including torture and murder.

The plan – to be implemented by UN agencies – proposes “quality services” for Libyans and migrants, including health centres, education and jobs, although deep-seated prejudice against sub-Saharan Africans sees them regularly denied access to current facilities.

Ms Leghtas said the plans were “disconnected from the reality on the ground”, pointing out that many of the UN’s own workers are stationed in neighbouring Tunisia because Libya is considered so dangerous.

“A lot more needs to be done to address this emergency,” she added. “For refugees, Libya is death and torture – that is what they are fleeing.”

A spokesperson for the Libyan interior ministry did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment but Jalal Othman, director of communications for the GNA, previously said authorities are “facing immense challenges” and lack funding, equipment and training.

He added: “We completely deplore any violence against migrants."

 

Newsweek: 'It is better to die than stay in Libya:' Libya's slave markets remind us of flaws in EU migration plans

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BY IZZA LEGHTAS ON 4/19/17 AT 10:12 AM

I was horrified when I read the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report last week on sub-Saharan Africans being sold and bought in open markets in Libya—but I was not surprised.

During a recent visit to Italy, I spoke with dozens of men and women from East and West Africa who recently arrived in Sicily from Libya. They recounted extreme acts of cruelty at the hands of human smugglers, members of the Libyan coastguard, state-run detention center workers and locals.

“I was sold twice,” a young man from Guinea told me on the tiny island of Lampedusa, just days after he arrived by boat from Libya. “I was sold to an Arab man who forced me to work and told me to call my family so they would send money. He sold me to another Arab man who forced me to work for him, too.” The young man was only able to leave once his family sent enough money to free him.

The slave trade affects women, too. A young woman from Nigeria told me: “As a female, you can’t walk alone in the street. Even if they don’t shoot you, [if] you’re black, they’ll just take you and sell you.” One man, also from Guinea, said that women are more expensive to buy than men.

Women also face shocking levels of sexual abuse. A United Nations official told me that of the migrants and asylum seekers in Libya, “almost every woman” has been sexually abused.

In this context, it is astounding that the European Union is working hard to keep people off its shores, even if it means leaving them in Libya. As outlined in a declaration in Malta in February, EU heads of state have promised to train and equip the Libyan coastguard and are hoping to “ensure [there are] adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants.”

With summer weather approaching—bringing better conditions for crossing the Mediterranean—the EU and its member states are working with a sense of urgency that is palpable.

Training the Libyan coastguard is a welcome move if it contributes to saving lives and treating those rescued with humanity and respect. But the question of what happens after they are rescued is key: People are currently taken to detention centers where they are held in inhuman conditions.

Describing such centers, asylum seekers and migrants told me they had been beaten and forced to ask their relatives for money, that sometimes those who could not pay were shot, and that they were hardly fed at all.  In addition, the collusion between smugglers and people running some detention centres is no secret.

Absent from the EU plan is what happens to people who fled their homes because of violence or persecution. Many of those arriving in Italy via Libya are in this category, among them Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, and people fleeing other countries because it is unsafe for them, often because of their political activities or sexual orientation.

The EU is focused on increasing the number of people returning from Libya to their country of origin, but there does not seem to be any consideration for those who cannot do so safely.

Despite the ongoing chaos and violence in Libya there is an absence—with very few exceptions—of international staff, including those from the EU, the U.N., and humanitarian organizations on the ground. As such, the idea that the situation for migrants and asylum seekers will dramatically improve in the coming months is utterly unrealistic.

One Eritrean man told me that “it’s better to die in the sea than to stay in Libya.” Smugglers had chained him to the ground by the ankles for three days when he was unable to pay the money they demanded. It is little surprise that for people like him, risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean seems like the only option.

Izza Leghtas is Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International. Leghtas is the author of an upcoming report on the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in Libya due out this May. Follow her on Twitter @IzzaLeghtas