Saturday, March 07, 2015

Humanitarianism?

“They are fighting about money and who will rule this country. They are not fighting about any other thing.”

What does a “humanitarian” interventionist do when those he intervened to “help” are worse off than they were before? David Cameron overlooks his good guys turning bad in Libya and echoes Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq, ‘Stuff happens.’ It’s not my fault. I have no regrets.  Move on. 

Let us not forget that Cameron and Hague later tried intervening on behalf of the “good” opposition in Syria. More recently they want to escalate military support for Ukraine. Lessons are rarely learned. Libya is a disaster but our media hasn't bothered to tell us. Remember the wall-to-wall coverage of Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi? Libya dropped down the TV ratings once Gaddafi was killed. Post-Gaddafi Libya is not a subject the UK media nor the government want to talk about and it's pretty clear why.

In 2011, Libyans revolted against the dictatorship of Muammar el-Qaddafi, looking to end his forty-two-year grip on the country. After a bloody civil war, he was toppled by NATO-backed rebels. Four years later, the country is still at war. For over six months, two rival coalitions, each with its own government and parliament and backed by a loose federation of militias, have been engaged in a bitter power struggle that is engulfing the country. After a weeks-long battle for Tripoli over the summer, the internationally recognized government fled to the eastern city of Bayda under the protection of Khalifa Hifter, a renegade general who heads a coalition dubbed Operation Dignity. Meanwhile, the self-declared government in the capital is backed by a group of militias calling itself Libya Dawn. In Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 revolt, fierce fighting has raged since May between Operation Dignity and Islamist militias. Radical groups have taken advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold across the country, with Libya’s affiliate of the Islamic State seizing control of Derna and Sirte. The conflicts has brought Libya to the brink of collapse.

The United Nations estimated that the number of internally displaced people between May and November 2014 alone was 400,000—the equivalent of one out of fifteen Libyans. In western Libya, entire towns have been displaced. Many have been forced to flee two or three times. Most Libyans who want to leave the country have found that the world has rejected them. “Europe doesn’t accept us as immigrants now,” explained Abdel Rahmi Ebedi 45-year-old mechanical engineer a refugee from Benghazi. “I lost one of my relatives, I lost my job,” he says. “I lost everything…Nothing is functioning here.” He sees no future in Libya, and applied for a visa to Italy but was denied despite having previously lived there for over a decade.

“People have to stop fighting so things can get better, especially for the patients. I don’t know what they are thinking,” says Dr. Massoud Mohamed, “They are destroying the whole country.”

Though the battle for Tripoli ended months ago, the capital does not feel secure. At night the streets are largely deserted and controlled by masked gunmen at makeshift checkpoints. Journalists and civil society activists have fled. Kidnappings are increasingly common and assassinations are on the rise. Extremist groups—including the Libyan affiliate of the Islamic State—have staged bold attacks on hotels and embassies. Last month, Italy closed its embassy and repatriated its staff, the last Western power to do so. Destroyed in a weeks-long battle between rival militias last summer, the ruined international airport now stands as a symbol of the conflict that is destroying the entire country. Mitiga, Tripoli’s second airport, is now the main hub.
“It looks like a gradual descent into the abyss,” says Hanan Salah, the Libya researcher for Human Rights Watch. “I’m hoping that there is a way out, but from everything that I’m seeing, that I’m hearing—no one is backing down, everyone is accelerating, everyone is becoming more territorial, more positioned on their issues. Everything indicates that it’s heading toward disaster.”

Our politicians don't care about Libya, or Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan or anywhere. They squeeze political capital out of those conflicts with phony outrage and then turn their backs upon  innocent refugees to capture votes in upcoming elections.

People are fleeing their home countries for a number of different reasons these days. It might be the civil war in Syria or the Islamic State terror in Iraq. They could also be fleeing the dictatorship in Eritrea or the threats and chaos in a failed state like Somalia. Many thousands of people who would have a credible chance of being given the right to stay in Europe are being compelled to enter the country illegally. They entrust criminal smugglers, dare to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean or they find other ways to penetrate Europe's highly fortified borders. In Germany they are confronted with Article 16 A, which stipulates that people faced with political persecution at home be granted the right to asylum. It includes no provisions for other factors that might drive people to flee their homes: hunger, droughts, crime, poverty or the lack of any prospects in a broken country. But that doesn't stop the refugees from coming. The federal government responded by drastically curbing the right to asylum. Refugees who had arrived from a "safe third country" were stripped of the right to asylum in Germany. Berlin declared Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia to be "safe countries," meaning it will be a lot easier to reject asylum-seekers from these regions back home. Some 17 percent of all asylum-seekers in Germany come from these three countries, but fewer than 1 percent are approved. Given that every single country that shares a border with Germany is considered to have that status, it means that "the only way a refugee could still apply for asylum in Germany would be to land here by parachute," criticized the refugee advocacy organization Pro Asyl. But it is no longer possible for Germany to seal itself off.

Most migrants reach Europe through Italy or Greece and many of them die on the way. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, describes the route across the Mediterranean as the world's deadliest. After fleeing from Somalia in the summer of 2008, Hirsi a 21-year-old refugee from Somalia, tried several times to reach Europe through Ukraine. He was detained once each by Ukrainian and Hungarian border patrols, and twice by police in Slovakia. Ukrainian security forces robbed, beat and tortured him, he says. After being apprehended, he spent almost three years in four different Ukrainian prisons -- for committing no crime other than seeking shelter and protection in Europe. This eastern route, and the fate of migrants like Hasan Hirsi, interest has thus far been limited.

The western Ukrainian city of Uzhgorod is a transit point for migrants from all over the world. Even last year, despite the conflict in Ukraine, hundreds still tried to reach the EU from Eastern Europe. Refugees often spend months in Uzhgorod, waiting for relatives to send them money for the next part of their journey. For several hundred euros, Ukrainian traffickers take migrants from Uzhgorod across the border to Hungary or Slovakia, usually choosing secret paths through the Carpathian Mountains. Refugees freeze to death almost every winter along the arduous mountain route. EU member states are required to examine asylum requests, but countries along its outer borders, like Hungary and Greece, often ignore the regulation and send refugees back to non-EU countries. The UNHCR is also familiar with such cases of "push-backs" into the EU-Ukrainian border region. When migrants are apprehended in Ukraine, they are usually sent to semi-official detention facilities for a few days before being transferred to prisons. Few refugees have the chance to speak with an attorney.

The European Union has provided Ukraine with €30 million ($34 million) in funding, which Kiev is using to build and renovate migrant detention centers, along with other facilities where they are housed temporarily. According to Human Rights Watch, about three quarters of the money went to private security firms. In 2010, the scope of a so-called readmission agreement between the EU and Ukraine was expanded to include citizens of other countries. Since then, Kiev must take back refugees who entered the EU through Ukraine. In return, the EU has made it easier for Ukrainian citizens to enter Europe. The International Organization for Migration received several million euros to support Ukrainian authorities in such areas as the internment of undocumented migrants. Brussels is apparently hoping that the system will reduce the number of asylum seekers in Europe -- without attracting too much attention. In 2010, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch criticized the EU for investing millions to divert flows of refugees from Europe toward Ukraine, while neglecting to take sufficient steps to ensure the humane treatment of refugees in Ukraine. The refugee crisis along the eastern edge of Europe could now escalate in the course of the Ukraine conflict. The government in Kiev has its hands full caring for almost a million internally displaced persons fleeing the fighting between government troops and rebels in eastern Ukraine. It is hardly capable of providing for asylum-seekers from the Middle East and African countries.

Pavshino, an internment camp for illegal migrants in western Ukraine. At the time, Pavshino had a reputation among refugees as the "Guantanamo of the East." Human rights organizations reported that facilities were overcrowded and hygienic conditions were disastrous. As long ago as 2005, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture was sharply critical of Ukraine for its inhumane and denigrating treatment of refugees. In 2010, Human Rights Watch reported on the abuse and torture of refugees by Ukrainian border guards. Several refugees independently told Human Rights Watch that they had been tortured with electric shocks. "They tied me to a chair. They attached electrodes to my ears and gave me electric shocks," said an Afghan refugee. A Somali complained that Ukrainian security forces had robbed him and threatened to kill him. "Listen carefully. You are in Ukraine now. Not in Germany. Not in England. There is no democracy here," a Ukrainian reportedly told them during questioning. "If you lie, you will not leave this place alive." Human Rights Watch believes that the refugees' claims are credible. The accounts are "convincing" and precise, according to the 2010 report. They also coincide with individual observations by another human rights organization, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. The German human rights organization Pro Asyl describes the Ukrainian asylum system as highly corrupt. "It doesn't matter if it's securing release from detention, getting papers or finding a bed in a camp, refugees have a hard time getting any of this in Ukraine without paying bribes," the report reads.

The Ukrainian military once used Zhuravychi as a barracks, but today the government houses migrants in the building. Most of the inmates in Zhuravychi are refugees who were caught in an attempt to cross the EU's external border. They are held in the camp for up to a year, with some landing there more than once. The drastic punishments are intended to deter refugees from attempting to enter the EU, says Marc Speer of the group bordermonitoring.eu. Officially, politicians in Brussels and Kiev don't refer to camps like Zhuravychi as prisons, but as "accommodations." Nevertheless, they are internment camps that the refugees are not permitted to leave. The inmates in Zhuravychi live behind barbed wire and concrete walls, and men in military garb guard the premises. Some of the prisoners, like Hasan Hirsi, fled the wars in Somalia and Afghanistan. Their arrest serves "no legitimate purposes" and constitutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UNHCR says critically.

The European Union has been leaning on neighbouring countries like Serbia, Morocco and Turkey for some time in its efforts to repel migrants and refugees. But the outsourcing of the EU's asylum policy is more advanced along Europe's eastern edge than anywhere else. Hardliners, for example, are fond of saying that the refugee problem shouldn't be solved here in Europe but back home in the countries of origin. It is, they argue, their responsibility, perhaps with a bid of development aid from the EU. Were the situation in Africa to improve, they believe, more people would opt to stay. It is a pleasant notion. But development aid isn't even close to sufficient to save the world. One could just as well ask God to make it rain twice a day in the Sahel region so that rice could be planted there. Hardliners also demand that asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected be deported immediately. They argue that such a policy would send a signal to those in Asia or Africa who are thinking of trying to emigrate to Europe. What they don't say, though, is that a large share, if not the largest share, of asylum seekers can't be deported. Many of them come from countries that are wracked by civil war, making it illegal to return them. Other countries refuse to take their citizens back. And in many cases, the country of origin simply isn't known.

The only goal should be that of coping with the suffering. Limiting asylum rights only to those people who are being persecuted is a distortion -- an arbitrary curtailment -- of the right to a dignified life. Do people facing death by starvation have less of a right to assistance than people facing death via torture? Do we really want to keep out those who have nothing to eat while accepting those who are oppressed? Every day, people are dying because the wealthy would like to hang on to their prosperity.

In 2011 Philip Hammond, then the UK’s new Defence Secretary, urged British businessmen to get ahead in the expected rush to cash in on Libya’s reconstruction and vast oil industry. It was time for British companies to be “packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya... as soon as they can”, he said. In 2015 now Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond’s department’s advice is “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to Libya due to the ongoing fighting and deteriorating security situation... The British Embassy in Tripoli has temporarily closed, and is unable to provide consular assistance. There is a high threat from terrorism.”
In 2011 Cameron visited Libya and declared “It is great to be here in free Benghazi, and free Libya,” he said. In 2015, Libya is no-where on any of his travel plans for the foreseeable future if he follows his Foreign Office’s advice. And when Cameron announces  “I am proud that the UK offers genuine refugees and their children an opportunity to build a new life.” He is simply a blatant unrepentant bare-faced liar. 

Sources


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