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.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 51 min 19 sec ago

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”