Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Out of sight, out of mind

Refugees and migrants face kidnap, rape, torture, slave labour and sexual violence in Libya before attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy, an Oxfam report has found. The report describes the conditions in which thousands lived trapped until they managed to make their way to Italy as a "living hell". 

The report states: "The EU is meant to be a bastion of human rights: EU member states should ensure that migrants arrive safely in Europe where they can have access to a fair and transparent process for claiming asylum."  The report adds that a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to open processing centres on Libyan soil risks "entrapping more people in a lawless and dangerous state". 

In the report, Oxfam and its partners found that in 84 per cent of the testimonies, people said they had suffered inhuman or degrading treatment, extreme violence or torture, 80 per cent said they had regularly been denied food and water during their stay and 70 per cent said they had been tied up. 

Oxfam and its partners are calling on Italy and other European member states to stop pursuing migration policies that prevent people leaving Libya and escape the abuse they are suffering. The charities are urging European countries to take their fair share of asylum seekers and create safe routes for migrants to leave Libya. Oxfam has accused the EU of "trying to keep migration at arm's length" by using development money to reduce mobility at African borders, "effectively moving its borders so they are out of sight and out of mind".
Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB, described the testimonies of atrocities in Libya as "unimaginable cruelty".
She said: “These testimonies paint a horrifying picture of desperate people who have risked their lives to escape war, persecution and poverty only to be confronted with unimaginable cruelty in Libya. The UK, along with other EU member states, has actively supported efforts to limit arrivals in Europe, trapping refugees and other migrants in a living hell. Outsourcing the policing of our borders to Libya isn’t the solution; EU member states, including the UK, should provide safe routes for people to come to Europe, including expanding opportunities for refugee families to reunite, and provide access to fair and transparent processes for claiming asylum.” 

Meanwhile, there is another growing risk to migrants. Traffickers in Niger are taking African migrants dreaming of reaching Europe on more dangerous routes through the Sahara desert in order to avoid detection after a government crackdown on smuggling, the U.N. migration agency said .

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it had rescued 1,000 migrants since April in Niger's desert north, a transit point to Libya, from where more than 600,000 people have set out on flimsy boats for Europe in the past four years. Fewer smugglers are setting off from the Nigerien city of Agadez - a smuggling hub until the European Union last year bankrolled a clampdown - and are now taking more treacherous routes through the Sahara, far away from water sources and basic services, the IOM said.
"Smugglers are taking more risks to avoid major hubs, checkpoints and security controls," Alberto Preato, programme manager at the IOM in Niger, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation . "But cars break down, drivers get lost and migrants get abandoned ... the conditions are dire," he added. "Migrants say: 'The desert is a larger cemetery than the Mediterranean'."
More migrants may die in the Sahara than in the Mediterranean, says migration tracking group 4mi. Dozens have died of thirst in Niger's desert north in recent months, while hundreds of others have been rescued by authorities.
"Because the desert is so vast ... it is hard to know how many people are actually dying en route," IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. "But it is definitely in the hundreds if not thousands."

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