Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

Libyan detention centres must end, EU says

  • Humanitarian access to Libyan detention centres has dropped (Photo: UNHCR.org)

The European Commission says it is pressing to shut down Libyan migrant and refugee detention centres.

The comments on Monday (21 June) were made following press reports of minors being sexually assaulted by Libyan guards.

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"We have our position on detention centres. They need to close," European Commission spokesperson Dana Spinat, told reporters.

The sexual assaults comes on the backdrop of numerous rights abuses over the years in Libya, including slavery.

It also comes amid a record number of interceptions by a Libyan Coast Guard, trained and partly financed by the EU.

Over 13,000 people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya so far this year. This comes to just under 12,000 for the whole of 2020, and over 9,000 in 2019.

EU training of the Libyan Coast Guard under the auspices of its Irini naval operation are on hold given Libyan wary.

Turkey has since stepped in, taking charge of training and equipping the Libyans who are intercepting some 55 percent of all departures.

Ankara's involvement with the Libyan Coast Guard is likely welcomed by the European Union because it deflects criticism over returns.

But it also means possible greater political leverage from Turkey over the European Union, as it gains a stronger hold along the Central Mediterranean migratory route towards Europe.

Irini's operational commander, rear admiral Fabio Agostini, is set to visit Tripoli, which has largely ignored his requests to train the Libyan coast guard.

A diplomatic source told EUobserver that there have been at least three unverified incidents this year where Turkish boats intercepted and returned migrants to Libya.

The moves come amid a new unity government in Libya and a 23 June Berlin conference where leaders are set to discuss the country's future.

The EU has pumped some €455 million into Libya, most of which is used to assist migrants through international aid organisations.

Almost €60 million has also gone into shoring up Libyan border management to prevent people from fleeing the country.

The Tripoli-based EU mission to Libya, Eubam, is focusing energy on securing vast expanses of land borders in the south of Libya.

But it also helped develop Libya's maritime strategy.

An internal EU document from earlier this year noted a pilot project to boost the search and rescue operational capacity of Libya's General Administration for Coastal Security (Gacs). Over 100 Gacs members have since also been trained by the EU.

Libya's Department for Combating Illegal Immigration, or DCIM, is also making it increasingly difficult for NGOs and international aid organisations to access its detention centres.

"For humanitarian actors, we have never been so constrained. We are put in a box and then in a smaller box and then in smaller box. So it is difficult days ahead of us," said Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency's special envoy to the Central Mediterranean.

The most recent reports of sexual assaults by the Libyan guards occurred at the DCIM managed Shara al-Zawiya detention centre in Tripoli.

Abused victims were reported to be as young as 16, with one 15-year old girl attempting suicide.

EU money for Libya is sourced from a larger EU Trust Fund for Africa, set to expire at the end of this year.

Fresh EU aid money will then come from the so-called Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

The new €79.5m fund has earmarked some 10 percent for migration.

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