Libyan ‘hell’ driving new migrant surge

This file photo taken on November 5, 2016 shows migrants and refugees transferred from the Topaz Responder ship run by Maltese NGO "Moas" and the Italian Red Cross to the Spanish war ship Navarra, after being rescued off the coast of Libya. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2017

Libyan ‘hell’ driving new migrant surge

ROME: Nightmarish conditions in Libya are helping to drive a surge in the numbers of migrants attempting to reach Italy in the depths of winter, humanitarian officials and asylum seekers say.
European efforts to close the route are also thought to lie behind a 30 to 40 percent increase in the number of mainly African migrants who have landed at Italian ports in the first two months of this year, compared to the same period in 2015 and 2016.
More than 2,700 people have been rescued in recent days, including a newborn delivered on a Norwegian police vessel.
The latest arrivals will lift the total for January and February above 12,000.
The number of deaths has also spiked: survivor testimonies point to 350 so far this year, compared to around 100 in the same period of last year, according to the UN.
The dangers of winter crossings were underlined in February 2015 when four rubber dinghies packed with migrants were caught in a storm that was to claim some 330 lives, including many who who froze to death and 20 who perished in the course of a what rescuers described as a hellish salvage operation.
“The increase in arrivals is probably due to living conditions in Libya becoming ever more dangerous,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), one of the agencies that helps migrants on their arrival in Italy.
Sairon Kamara, one of the people rescued last week, described the brutality of the traffickers who organize the migrants’ journeys.
“The people would beat us every day and hang us (upside down) with rope,” Kamara told an AFP reporter on board the Golfo Azzurro, a rescue boat operated by Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms.
“It was not easy, every day people are dying. Every day, people die.”
Another Guinean, Bari Mamadu, described how the smugglers would force migrants to call their families to ask for more money.
“When you dial the number, they hit you so your parents will hear you screaming ... there are five people hitting you with thick piping, hitting, hitting until you faint.”
Griselle, from Guinea-Bissau, said he had seen 15 people die from the blows, or as a result of being deprived of food and water.
“Libya is hell,” he said. “They treat us like goods that can be bought and sold.”
Last week, the corpses of 13 Africans were found suffocated in a container they had been locked in for four days prior to a planned departure.
Not all those leaving Libya had come to the North African state with the firm intention of trying to travel on to Europe.
A group of 75 Bangladeshis rescued last week said they had worked in the country for four years before deciding it had become too unsafe to stay amid ongoing violence between warring factions.
At the same time, the traffickers are using European moves to block their trade as an enticement to persuade would-be migrants to book their passage as soon as possible.
Earlier this month, Italy and Libya signed an EU-backed memorandum of understanding under which Italy’s coast guard will help train and equip its Libyan equivalent to make it more effective in stopping boats.
“The traffickers say it will be the Libyans doing the rescue operations in a couple of months and bringing everyone back to Libya,” said the IOM’s Di Giacamo.
“That’s the last thing most of the migrants want so they think they have to hurry up and leave.”


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”