Italy and the EU- Libya’s Migrant Crisis is a Humanitarian Crisis

On Wednesday, the Italian Foreign Ministry called for the improvement of the conditions of illegal migrants in Libya, and called for the ensurance that more ‘acceptable and dignified’ conditions be provided in the detainee centers.

In a statement to the Italian media agency Aki, the Foreign Ministry said that Italy, in an agreement with the European Union, had urged the United Nations’ agencies to improve the conditions of the migrants in Libya, and these requests have been made for months. The Foreign Ministry also confirmed Italy’s support for the UNHCR initiative and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Libya. The Ministry stated that the need to develop rapid and effective action is imperative to protect the rights and dignity of the migrants.  The Ministry called on Europe to be at the forefront of tackling the human trafficking issue.

In 2017, Libyans have taken in an approximate 20,000 migrants from the sea, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). After being brought to shore the migrants are moved into ‘detention centers’ where UN personnel recently visited and described as “broken beyond repair”.

The UN. staff members had visited four DCIM facilities earlier this month and were shocked by what they saw. High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein said in a statement on Tuesday, “they saw thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities, and stripped of their human dignity.”

The European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas also described the situation of illegal immigration centers as “unacceptable,” adding that the European Union considers it necessary to close them down.

While U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups have access to see these migrants, to provide them health care and some food, the High Commissioner said it is not enough because “the E.U. and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants”.

On Monday, European and African ministers from 13 countries repeated a pledge to try to improve conditions for migrants in Libya, and on Saturday Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni hailed Italian immigration policy. “Italy is the only country in Europe with a decent migration policy,” Gentiloni said. “We’re proud because we don’t build walls or close ports.”

Libya has not ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and s not equipped with the correct policies to handle such situations.The U.N. has urged Libyan authorities to take concrete steps to halt the violations and abuses in detention centres, and to stop detaining migrants. The High Commissioner added, “the international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, and pretend that the situation can be remedied only by improving conditions in detention.”

Reacting to the High Commissioner’s charges, Margaritis Schinas said Brussels was funding UN agencies on the ground in Libya that were working to protect people.“We believe that the detention centers in Libya must be closed. The situation in these camps is unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

Italy, with the support of the EU, since the summer has been training the Libyan coast guard to intercept boats as part of a controversial deal that has resulted in arrivals to Italy falling by nearly 70% since July. The EU wanted rescued people to be brought to “reception centres that meet international humanitarian standards”, they said, while at the same time improving the Libyan coast guard’s capacity to prevent deaths at sea.

But the UN human rights office criticised European countries for ignoring warnings that the deal with Libya could condemn more people to detention, exposing them to torture, rape, forced labour and extortion. Zeid Ra’ad Hussein stated,“We cannot be a silent witness to modern-day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings, in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatised people from reaching Europe’s shores”.

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