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CIR: Libya and the European Union, the protection of refugees must not be used for bargaining

3rd February 2017 – The Italian Refugee Council – CIR is extremely concerned about the conclusions reached at the informal meeting of European heads of state held in Malta.

The declaration was adopted one week after the joint communication of the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, which is explicitly and positively cited in the conclusions of the European Council and explained in detail the Union’s plan, a plan that establishes diverse actions aimed at preventing the traffic in human beings, to reinforce the Libyan authorities and coast guard to better manage the borders and ensure returnees a “safe disembarkation” on the Libyan coast for those migrants intercepted by the Libyan authorities in national waters. This practice would enable the effective re-treading of the policy of forced return from international waters, carried out by Italy between 2009 and 2010, for which Italy was strongly criticized by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Hirsi and others vs. Italy. The direct actor would no longer be a naval force of a European state but rather the Libyan forces piloted by the European Union through the deployment of money, resources and training. This “delegated” operation would not change the result: the violation of the principle of refoulement that prohibits the forced return of refugees towards a territory in which their lives or liberty are threatened. “We find it unacceptable that behind the objective of saving human lives and the necessity to combat trafficking in human beings, are hidden policies introduced with the priority interest of preventing the arrival of refugees and migrants in EU territory,” explains Roberto Zaccaria, President of CIR.

The fact that these returns, which should begin in the spring, will be carried out by Libyan authorities in Libyan waters does not make the matter any less serious or legally acceptable. The same EU regulations relating to the European border and coast guards (Frontex) in article 34 establishes that “in the execution of its responsibilities the European border guard operate in order that no one shall be disembarked, obliged to or led to enter into a country (…) in violation of the principle of non-rejection or in a country in which there is a risk of expulsion or repatriation towards another country in violation of said principle.” “The aim of the planned activities of training, material support through resources and finance for the Libyan authorities, would be exactly that of “disembarking” migrants and refugees in Libya where they would be exposed to genuine risks of mistreatment. Libya is a country in which many analysts and observers have for many years denounced the existence of systematic violations of human rights and harm to African migrants and refugees. Furthermore, Libya can no longer offer asylum seekers adequate protection against the risk of repatriation to African countries of origin where they risk being persecuted or even killed,” continues Roberto Zaccaria.

The European Council’s declaration, and in a more exhaustive way, the joint communication of the European Commission and the High Representative establishes actions in order to reinforce the protection of migrants and to develop programmes for Voluntary Assisted Return. These actions should create different pathways: to reinforce the protection and humanitarian assistance for migrants, to encourage local integration, promote assisted voluntary return and the resettlement of those in need of protection. The communication also speaks of the necessity to ensure fundamental human rights in the detention centres and the indispensable fight against torture, extortion and degrading and inhuman treatment. However, neither an operational plan nor realistic actions are explained in any detail. On this front the European plan remains vague and does not, in difference to the part concerning returns, offer a clear and feasible roadmap.

“We believe that all actions of protection in third countries are fundamental and we believe that these are what the European Union should be investing in. Such actions, beginning with the current situation in Libya, can only achieve results in a medium to long term period. In order to achieve such a scenario, the return of refugees and migrants to Libya is completely unacceptable. The closure of the Libyan route, reinforced also by the actions of control established in the plan for the land border in the south of Libya, without at the same time enacting effective alternatives for protection for migrants and refugees is a grave violation of their fundamental human rights.” Continues Roberto Zaccaria.

What should be set up in Libya and in other African countries, is a system in which on one hand there are actions of cooperation and development aimed at consolidating development and the state of law in the countries of origin and transit countries, and on the other, develops policies to encourage legal arrival in Europe, humanitarian corridors and regular flows for reasons of study, work and family. Finally such a programme should establish the consolidation of local contexts and the reinforcement of civil society in order that the protection of refugees and migrants can be guaranteed effectively: all of this without preventing the spontaneous arrival of migrants and refugees. “An indispensable and ambitious programme that requires adequate finance and long-term vision. We cannot begin to block migrants and refugees in territories that are dangerous today. We must begin to increase the possibilities for their protection. We cannot invert the terms of the problem,” concludes Zaccaria.

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