Italy-Libya deal puts migrants in danger, say rights group

Migrants wait to be transferred off a boat during their rescue in international waters in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. (AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2020

Italy-Libya deal puts migrants in danger, say rights group

  • Italy sees the Libyan coast guard as key to stemming a huge influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe

CAIRO: Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday that Italy’s renewed support for the Libyan coast guard is putting migrants in danger who are returned to squalid detention centers in the North African country.

Italy sees the Libyan coast guard as key to stemming a huge influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. The war in Libya, where rival militias are vying for control, has made the challenge of handling the migrant flows worse.

The New York-based watchdog urged Italy to suspend all funding and training for the coast guard until Libya shuts down militant-run detention centers in the country. About 5,000 migrants are languishing in dozens of filthy Libyan centers, where rape, torture and other abuses run rampant.

“Italy can’t paper over its complicity in the suffering of migrants and refugees who fall into the hands of the Libyan Coast Guard,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

The UN refugee agency reports that the coast guard has picked up and returned roughly 40,000 migrants to war-ravaged Libya since the agreement was reached three years ago. The total number of migrants intercepted in the past month rose 121 percent from the same period last year.

Italy recently extended its contentious deal supporting the Libyan coast guard, drawing sharp criticism from humanitarian groups.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Italy’s foreign minister revealed that Rome has asked Libya to modify the accord to give humanitarian groups some responsibility for migrants intercepted by the coast guard. The proposal’s details remain vague.

Sunderland described the suggested changes as “tweaking” an already broken arrangement.

“Italian authorities should insist on the closure of detention centers, direct its resources to supporting safe alternatives to detention, increase evacuations from Libya, including directly to Italy, and resume a leadership role in saving lives at sea,” she said.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.