Saturday

20th Jul 2019

EU dismisses UN call to stop migrant returns to Libya

  • This week's airstrike on a Libyan detention centre killed at least 53, in a possible war crime. Over 100 people picked up at sea by the EU-trained Libyan Coast Guard were disembarked and transferred to the Tajoura centre (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

The European Commission has dismissed calls by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to halt the return of people rescued at sea to war-torn Libya.

The UN call followed the airstrike this week that killed at least 53 people at the Tajoura detention centre in the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, including six children.

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Asked to react on the UN demands, the European Commission declined.

"I am not going to give reactions to specific statements," a European Commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (4 July).

The EU-trained and part-funded Libyan Coast Guard had in fact sent 108 people to Tajoura only days after another bomb had exploded near the facility in early May.

It is unclear if any of those are among the dead or injured as the toll continues to climb in what has been described as a possible war crime.

But Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an NGO, says the EU is complicit in their deaths.

"We have seen thousands of people who have been intercepted at sea and returned to detention centres even whilst there is conflicts raging around the city," MSF's Sam Turner told PRI media outlet.

Tajoura housed at least 600 refugees and migrants, including women and children.

Another 500 remain stuck at the facility despite the shelling with the UN describing reports that Libyan guards had shot at refugees and migrants trying to flee from the air strikes.

"The number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict has almost doubled as the result of this single attack," said an UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report on Wednesay.

Many of the people that end up in the detention centres are intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard. Around 3,300 are thought to be locked up in centres inside and around Tripoli alone.

'No access'

The commission - which funds some €45m from its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa towards Libya, including funding for the coastguard - says it is up to Libyans to rescue people within their own territorial waters "as we have no access", adding that the EU is training them to respect human rights.

But an earlier probe by this website has found people who failed the EU's screening tests for the training, amid speculation some are militias, remain employed with the Libyan coast guard.

"People who are refused EU training return to work. We have received no proof, or documents, that they did something wrong," Qassim Ayoub, spokesperson for Libya's coast guard, told EUobserver last year.

The European Commission says it has no idea on how many have failed the screening tests.

The EU supports the UN agency, along with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to resettle or send home people stranded in Libya.

The IOM says it has helped return some 5,000 to their home countries spread throughout Africa and Asia.

From the start of this year til the end of June, around 1,300 refugees were resettled out of Libya. Of those, 711 were sent to Niger, 295 went to Italy and 291 were resettled elsewhere in Europe as well as Canada.

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