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3rd Jul 2022

European arms 'displaced over a million people', research finds

  • The EU's operation Irini is trying to stop weapons from entering Libya (Photo: unsmil.unmissions.org)

Researchers have found a direct link between European arms exports and the forced displacement of at least 1.1 million people.

"The figure of 1.1 million is a conservative estimate based on these case studies which geolocate European arms within a specific timeframe," said Niamh Ni Bhriain from the Dutch-based Transnational Institute (TNI), via email.

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She added it is likely many millions more were displaced as a result of European arms exports.

The TNI report, published Wednesday (28 July), looked at four cases where European weapons were used in conflict and war.

It said Italian T-129 ATAK helicopter components exported to Turkey were used in two attacks in northern Syria, where some 180,000 were forced to flee.

In Iraq, Islamic State fighters were using Bulgarian missile tubes and rockets that had been shipped to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The tubes and rockets were used in Ramadi, where over half a million people were displaced from the Anbar province.

"In 2017 another missile tube originating in Bulgaria was found to have been used by IS forces in the town of Bartella, located to the east of Mosul," noted the report.

Bulgaria had also exported assault rifles, large-calibre artillery systems, light machine-guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers to the Democratic Republic of Congo's national police and military.

"Specifically, Bulgarian weapons were in use in North Kivu in 2017 coinciding with the forced displacement of 523,000 people," it said.

British, French, and German missiles were also mounted on Turkish-made drones and exported to Azerbaijan, it said.

These drones were then used in the 44-day conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, says the report. Some 90,000 Armenians fled during the conflict.

The report also highlighted how Libya was given Italian patrol boats, used to intercept fleeing refugees and migrants at sea.

Among them is the Fezzan Libyan Patrol 658, which EUobserver earlier this month witnessed intercept a boat of migrants well within Malta's search and rescue zone.

The European Union is now set to deliver the Libyans with three new P150 class patrol boats, according to EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi.

The TNI findings come on the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, an international treaty establishing the rights of people forced to flee.

But the findings also come amid a sharp increase of European arms sales and exports.

France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK alone accounted for 22 percent of global arms exports between 2016 to 2020.

Europe sold €35bn of weapons to north African and West Asian countries since 2017. Of those, at least €14bn were from French arms sales alone, notes the report.

Similar findings were revealed last November by Lighthouse Reports along with Arte and Mediapart.

They linked French artillery and training of the Saudi guard to the war raging in Yemen.

The EU has guidelines that are supposed to ensure weapons are not used illegally. But weak enforcement by national authorities led to efforts by some members of the European Parliament to try to impose stricter rules.

Among them is Hannah Neumann, a German Green MEP. She said France is one of the laxest when it comes to following the EU guidelines.

"In Germany, you have a government representative that is neutral towards the defence industry. In France, you have the defence industry sitting at the table," she said last November.

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