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23rd Jan 2020

Amnesty International shames EU handling of Libya refugees

  • Sub-Saharan migrants are targeted as Gaddafi loyalists in Libya (Photo: IOM)

EU countries have "shamefully" failed to help some 5,000 African refugees who fled the violence directed against them in Libya and are now stranded on the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, humanitarian watchdog Amnesty International said Monday (19 September).

"We have witnessed an abysmal response to the plight of displaced refugees on Europe’s doorstep," said Nicolas Beger, head of Amnesty International's European branch.

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"This failure is particularly glaring given that some European countries, by participating in Nato operations in Libya, have been party to the very conflict that has been one of the main causes of the involuntary movement of people," he explained after Amnesty teams went on fact-finding missions to Libya.

Approximately 1,000 people, including Eritreans, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Ivoriens, Palestinians, Somalis and Sudanese, are stranded at Egypt's Saloum border post, sleeping in makeshift tents made of blankets and plastic sheets.

Meanwhile in Choucha camp in Tunisia, around 3,800 refugees live in an isolated area of desert where conditions are harsh.

One Sudanese man told Amnesty International: "Humans need dignity and freedom. But there is no freedom in Sudan and no dignity here."

Australia, Canada and the USA have offered to resettle some of the refugees stranded at Libya’s borders. But only eight European countries have offered to help, between them offering fewer than 700 slots.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees have attempted to reach Europe by sea, a perilous journey believed to have claimed more than 1500 lives since the start of the conflict in Libya.

"EU home affairs ministers must urgently address the resettlement issue – they can start by putting it prominently on the agenda of the justice and home affairs council on 22 September," Beger said.

When the rebellion against Gaddafi began earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of people anxious to leave the insecurity of Libya fled to neighbouring Tunisia. The majority of them have since been repatriated back to their country of origin. But sub-Saharan Africans cannot go home due to the violence in their countries.

Meanwhile, many of those who have not managed to get out of Libya are suspected of being Gaddafi loyalists and vulnerable to racist attacks, the watchdog says.

When Benghazi and other eastern cities first fell under the control of the National Transitional Council (NTC), anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killings and other violent attacks against of anyone suspected to be a mercenary for the dictator.

Amnesty International last week issued a special report calling on the NTC to stop the abuse and protect sub-Saharan people from reprisal attacks.

In response to Amnesty's findings, the NTC said it will adhere to human rights principles and claimed the violations perpetrated by rebel fighters were "limited".

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