Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant

  • Of the some 1,020 people sent to Niger from Libya, only 55 have been resettled elsewhere in Europe (Photo: © UNHCR/Louise Donovan)

Traumatised women arriving in Niger to then seek further refuge in Europe and elsewhere are demanding HIV testing after facing brutal abuse in Libyan detention centres.

"All the women that we evacuate from Libya, the first thing they ask arriving in Niamey airport is not a glass of water. It is HIV testing, that is what they are asking," said Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee special envoy to the region.

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  • Some 1,000 people evacuated from Libya are now in Niamey (Photo: Jean Rebiffe)

Speaking to an audience at a European Policy Centre event in Brussels on Thursday (15 March), Cochetel said most of them had been impregnated during their detention in Libya. He noted a baby, the first among the group of those evacuated, was born earlier this week in Niger as women seek to rebuild their lives.

But the fear of contracting the virus adds to the long list of documented horrors people stuck in Libyan detention centres have to endure.

Earlier this year, a team of officials from the UN, EU and African Union went to Tripoli to press authorities to release more people and stop the systematic criminalisation of migrants and refugees in the country.

"I have to say that the answers we got from the Libyan authorities was not very positive. We even had one senior official telling us that people are in detention for their protection," said Cochetel.

The move to evacuate the centres was made following CNN television images of migrants being sold off as slaves at public auctions for $400 a head.

Official figures estimate around 5,000 remain behind bars run by government centres, amid reports that security officials linked to those facilities are also plying the smuggling trade.

It is unclear how many are trapped in centres run by militias groups.

Niger had agreed to temporarily shelter people released from the Libyan detention centres under the conditions that they would then be resettled in Europe.

But the government in Niamey has suspended the programme, launched last November by a joint effort from the European Union, African Union, and the United Nations.

Of the some 1,020 people sent to Niger from Libya, only 55 have been resettled elsewhere in Europe.

"That is in three months, 55 departed. That is the best effort Europe can make. We can do better," noted Cochetel.

Some 161 are awaiting for departure to France, Sweden and Switzerland. Another 225 cases are pending decisions from European countries.

The slow pace of departures appears to be linked, in part, to the administrative bottlenecks within the UNHCR.

But Cochetel maintains such issues, like the difficulty of finding and hiring Eritrean interpreters, have since been ironed out.

"We had some processing challenges, they are fixed now. States have to move on the cases they have accepted," he said.

Those that do make it to Niger under the programme are placed in large houses throughout the city as part of an urban reception system where they are free to move around.

The UN agency had last December appealed for EU states to pledge 1,300 resettlement places. They almost doubled it.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, will be in Niger on Friday as part of a ministerial conference against migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

"We need to further step up resettlement efforts from Niger and member states should stand ready to resettle as soon as cases are referred to them," he said earlier this week.

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The UN migration agency (IOM) had planned to help return and reintegrate 5,000 people from Libya to their home countries, but ended up aiding 20,000 in 2017. The extra demand has piled on the pressure.

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The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

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