From Libya to Texas, tragedies illustrate plight of migrants

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Refugee Siban Assad, 20, from Al-Hasaka, Syria, looks out from the window of his shelter while holding his daughters, Ruba, one month, and Maldar, 1, at the Ritsona , Greece, refugee camp, about 86 kilometers (53 miles) north of Athens. (File/AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
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Migrant women from Syria walk with their children in a refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia, outside of the capital Nicosia, in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. (File/AP/Petros Karadjias)
Updated 06 July 2019
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From Libya to Texas, tragedies illustrate plight of migrants

  • The UN says a record 71 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide in 2018
  • The top three countries taking in refugees are Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda

GENEVA: They are trapped in squalid detention centers on Libya’s front lines. They wash up on the banks of the Rio Grande. They sink without a trace — in the Mediterranean, in the Pacific or in waterways they can’t even name. A handful fall out of airplanes’ landing gear.

As their choices narrow on land and at sea, migrants are often seen as a political headache in the countries they hope to reach and ignored in the countries they flee. Most live in limbo, but recent tragedies have focused attention on the risks they face and the political constraints at the root of them.

A record 71 million people were forcibly displaced around the world in 2018, according to a report last month by the UN refugee agency, in places as diverse as Turkey, Uganda, Bangladesh and Peru. Many are still on the move in 2019, or trapped like thousands in detention in Libya, where an airstrike on Tuesday killed at least 44 migrants and refugees locked away in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura.

Most of those in Tajoura and other Libyan detention centers have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, which has become the go-to border force for the European Union, which can’t get 28 governments to agree about migration. Despite the rhetoric about migration crises in Europe and the US, the top three countries taking in refugees are Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda. Germany comes in a distant fifth.

A 20-year-old who fled war in his homeland in sub-Saharan Africa two years ago survived the airstrikes, gunfire from militia members trying to keep migrants inside the compound, torture for ransom by traffickers and a sinking boat in the Mediterranean. He is now sleeping outside the Tajoura detention center along with hundreds of other migrants and awaiting a second chance to go to sea.

“I faced death in Libya many times before. I am ready to die again. I already lost my brothers in the war in my country,” he told The Associated Press. He didn’t want his name used because the militia fighters who shot at him are still guarding the compound.

Libya’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, pleaded Friday for Europe “to address the problem in a radical way — not to prevent migrants, but to provide jobs and investment in the migrants’ places of origin, as well as in southern Libya ... so as to absorb these huge numbers willing and eager to migrate to Europe.”

Within days of the airstrike, at least two boats filled with migrants sank off Libya’s coast, leaving around 140 people missing. Another group was picked up by a rescue ship and then barred from docking on the Italian island of Lampedusa, touching off the 21st standoff between Italy’s populist government and humanitarian groups. A pregnant woman watching a shipboard ultrasound of her baby smiled broadly, seemingly oblivious to the political furor on land and at sea.

A similar disconnect played out recently when the body of a stowaway on an inbound flight from Nairobi crashed to earth next to a man sunbathing on a Sunday afternoon in his London garden. The next day, mourners held a lavish burial in El Salvador for a man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas.

Like during a 2015 wave of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis pouring into Europe, daily reminders of migrants’ plights are back on front pages.

The US-Mexico border has become a flashpoint amid President Donald Trump’s ambitions to build a wall to keep out migrants. Many children caught crossing are stuck in squalid, unsanitary detention centers. Children have also been separated from parents in custody. Critics call such policies inhumane, heartless and “un-American.”

More broadly, advocates for the huddled masses on the move say not enough is being done in the migrants’ home, transit or destination countries. Only international cooperation can help resolve the agonies, they say — a tough sell at a time of rising go-it-alone, populist and nationalist sentiment in many places.

Filippo Grandi, head of UN refugee agency UNHCR, said his office has a “dialogue” going with the US Department of Homeland Security, and “if there is any help that we can provide to the US administration in dealing with this matter, we’re ready to do it.”

But he called for a regional discussion among countries like the United States — the destination for many — as well as transit country Mexico, and the troubled home countries for migrants and refugees such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where gang killings and lawlessness are rife.

“I have been to Honduras, to Guatemala, to El Salvador,” he told reporters recently in Geneva. “The violence perpetrated by gangs, the inability of these governments to protect their own citizenship, cause part of these flows. So this needs to be addressed in the proper manner — without stigmatizing these people.”


Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

In this Wednesday, March 20, 2019 file photo, a woman prays at the Potocari memorial center for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (AP)
Updated 57 min 20 sec ago
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Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

  • The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II

THE HAGUE: The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday slashed the state’s liability for 350 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, saying peacekeepers had only a “slim” chance of preventing their deaths.
The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified residents who had sought safety in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the besieged Muslim enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
The lightly armed Dutch troops eventually became overwhelmed and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic to evacuate the refugees.
The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Judges, however, on Friday reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent the Dutch state’s responsibility for compensation to the families in a case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ organization.
The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II and the darkest episode in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case,” the Supreme Court said. “That liability is limited to 10 percent of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

After the ruling, Mothers’ president Munira Subasic, who lost family members including her son, husband and father in the massacre, expressed disappointment.
“Today we experienced humiliation upon humiliation. We could not even hear the judgment in our own language because we were not given a translator,” she told AFP.
At Srebrenica “every life was taken away 100 percent. There is little we can do with 10 percent, but yes, the responsibility still lies where it does.”
“I only have two bones. I have found less than 10 percent of his body,” she added, referring to her teenage son.
The Dutch government accepted responsibility, saying it was relieved that “finally there was some clarity.”
A Dutch court originally held the state liable for compensation in 2014. In 2017 the appeals court upheld that decision before it was referred to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had said in 2017 that the Dutch actions meant the Muslims were “denied a 30 percent chance of avoiding abuse and execution,” and thus the Dutch state was liable for 30 percent of damages owed to families.
The Supreme Court agreed that “the state did act wrongfully in relation to the evacuation of the 5,000 refugees” in the compound, including 350 Muslim men the Bosnian Serbs were unaware of.
It said the Dutch peacekeepers “failed to offer these 350 male refugees the choice to stay where they were, even though that would have been possible.”
But explaining the decision to reduce the liability, the Supreme Court said that “the chance that the male refugees would have escaped the Bosnian Serbs had they been given the choice to stay was slim, but not negligible.”
Reacting to the ruling, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said in a statement the cabinet would “examine how to best implement the liability for damages suffered by the relatives in such a way it does justice to the Supreme Court ruling.”

In a swipe at the failure of other foreign powers to act during the 1995 crisis, the top court added that the “chance of Dutchbat (the Dutch UN mission) receiving effective support from the international community was slim.”
Former Dutchbat soldiers attending the case said they were disappointed on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I think the final judgment is a bit disappointing, especially when you see the court ruling of 30 percent and now it’s downgraded to 10 percent,” said Remko de Bruijne, a former Dutch blue helmet who served at Srebrenica.
“I think that’s not fair for the Mothers of Srebrenica but, on the other hand, now it’s clear,” he told AFP.
Srebrenica has cast a long shadow over The Netherlands, forcing a the government to resign in 2002 after a scathing report on the role of politicians in the episode.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently serving a life sentence in jail in The Hague after being convicted of genocide over Srebrenica and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges at an international tribunal in The Hague.
Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague at the time of his death in 2006.