Thursday

21st Jan 2021

EU 'hypocrisy' condemns people to Libya

  • EU policy of getting Libyan coastguard to return people rescued at sea is hypocritical, says Human Rights Watch (Photo: Stefanie Eisenschenk)

The EU is condemning people to "nightmarish conditions" in Libya by training its coastguard to prevent them from fleeing towards Europe, according to Human Rights Watch.

Kenneth Roth, the NGO's executive director, said at a press conference in Paris on Thursday (18 January) that the EU policy is an exercise in hypocrisy.

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He said the EU would not itself forcibly send people back to Libya but instead uses the Libyan coastguard to do the dirty work.

"It is time for this hypocrisy to end and for the European Union to find other ways to protect its border," he said.

The EU has been training the Libyan coastguard to pluck people from the sea and ship them back to the country. But people returned risk murder, rape, and slavery at any number of detention camps, some which are run by armed militia groups.

A EU-funded programme from the International Organization for Migration is sending others back to their home countries. A similar effort by the UN refugee agency is dispatching people from Libya to Niger as part of an eventual resettlement programme towards European countries.

But the EU's sea rescue containment policy, which is broadly led by the Italian government, has caused untold suffering for people returned to the war-torn country.

Similar outspoken condemnations have been voiced over the past few months from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Doctors without Borders, and others.

Meanwhile, the EU's efforts to reform internal asylum policy laws have been peppered with anti-migrant rhetoric. Such discourse has become more common and more mainstream among several governments.

Last November, the political outrage over a single Syrian refugee in Slovenia threatened to topple the government.

The refugee, who had made every effort to integrate, including by learning the language, had entered the country through Croatia in contravention of EU asylum law.

Hungary and Poland threat

Roth also had strong words for Hungary and Poland, describing Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and the chief of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski as fundamental threats for Europe.

"I think it is important for the European Union to recognise that the threat of Orban or Kaczynski is not just a national threat but a fundamental threat to the entire European project," he said.

Hungary has been pursuing a campaign to discredit civil society groups, has attempted to undermine the Central European University in Budapest, and introduced a raft of laws against migrants and asylum seekers.

Poland's government has seized control of the judiciary, cracked down on civil society, and restricted access to emergency contraception. Warsaw's move against the courts triggered the EU commission to launch sanctions.

Roth's statement follows the launch of the Human Rights Watch's annual 643-page world report.

The report's chapter on the European Union noted, among other things, that populist extremists are having "an outside influence over European politics."

It noted that far right groups have also made inroads in the German and Austrian governments and that "racist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim sentiment and violence" persisted throughout the EU.

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