- MSF Slams EU Restrictive Migrant Policies, Inhumane Conditions in Libyan Detention Centers
MSF Slams EU Restrictive Migrant Policies, Inhumane Conditions In Libyan Detention Centers
The virtual closure of Europe for migrants is resulting in horrible conditions in Libyan migrant detention centers and the situation will deteriorate further without a change of policy, Florian Westphal, the director of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) non-governmental organization in Germany, told Sputnik in an interview
Severe Conditions In Libyan Migrant Detention Centers
"If we look at Europe and North Africa, the most alarming situation is that in Libya, where we know there are thousands of migrants who are detained in official detention places and we suspect there are many, many more who are basically held against their will by criminal gangs ... We do have access to roughly nine places of detention in Libya and we know that the situation is very, very bad, very overcrowded in many places, medical care is often missing and recently we even found a place where up to one quarter of the inmates were more or less severely malnourished," Westphal said.
He said that there were "very few indications that it will change any time soon" as under the EU deal with the Libyan coast guards people who have been saved in the Mediterranean are being forced back into Libya and are being taken back to prisons in Libya.
"It is due to the closure of Europe. What we see in Europe is in many ways a total betrayal of the humanitarian values that Europe claims to stand for. We keep having EU claim ... that they are great supporters and advocates of humanitarian causes, that they do a lot to respect and ensure human dignity of the most vulnerable, but what we actually see in the Mediterranean and in Libya is exactly the opposite. The European objective is ... to keep the numbers of arrivals as low as possible and for that they are willing to take the risk that more people drown in the Mediterranean and more people remain stuck in the Libyan prisons in these absolutely inhumane conditions that we see there," the MSF official said.
EU POLICIES TO MAKE THINGS WORSE
According to the latest UN estimates, one out of 10 refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe can die at sea. According to International Organization for Migration, almost 300 people have died or went missing in the Mediterranean since in the first quarter of 2019 alone. The MSF warns that the attempts of European countries to curb migration by the means of strengthening their national borders and bolstering detention facilities outside Europe, mostly in Libya, can only make the situation get worse.
"The thing is that as a result of European policies, training the Libyan coast guard, equipping them and closing its own borders and ports in Europe, the likelihood is that we will see more and more people in these Libyan prisons, that overcrowding will increase.
The facilities are just not there to take in more people ... And what that results in and leads to is the very dangerous and difficult conditions for these people in Libya actually are being exacerbated. And we have to bear in mind that those people did not commit any crime, they are being locked up for having crossed the border. They are not criminals, but they are being treated like criminals," Westphal argued.
Westphal explained that there is a growing trend of attempts by NGOs to intervene being criminalized and cited the example of Aquarius rescue vessel, whose work had to be halted as none of the countries wanted to provide the ship with registration after it was revoked by Panama. The MSF official argued that was a part of the plan to distract media attention from what is going on in the Mediterranean.
"Now we have one ship operating there and obviously that's part of the plan. The fewer ships you have out there, the fewer witnesses you have who can describe what actually is going on. What we are seeing already is because there are fewer search and rescue ships, because the media cannot access Libyan detention centers, public attention, media attention is decreasing and I would say that's actually part of the plan," he said.
The Aquarius has been drawing the attention of both the media and governments since it was forced to remain at sea last June after neither Italy nor Malta allowed the ship to dock; the two countries did not want to accept the rescued migrants on board the vessel. The Spanish authorities eventually allowed the ship to dock. The situation repeated itself in August, but Valletta later allowed it to dock so that migrants could disembark after agreeing with several EU states to share them.
"First of all they [the EU] need to find European ports, where people who have been saved can be dropped off, because saving at sea also includes dropping them off in a safe port where they are safe from prosecution. And then Europe needs to establish a mechanism to make sure those people are then distributed across different EU member-states. Until now the EU is taking a supposedly easy solution, they left Greece, Italy and Spain to the extent where practically the whole burden of absorbing and receiving people in the first place ... There's been no solidarity in the EU so they need to find an agreement. That's the kind of political agreement that we are looking for, instead of a policy that is oriented essentially towards keeping as many people out of Europe as possible," Westphal said.