Amnesty: Migrants face ‘vicious cycle of cruelty’ in Libya

Amnesty International said thousands of Europe-bound migrants who were intercepted and returned to Libyan shores this year were forcefully disappeared after they were taken of detention centers run by militias allied with the UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli. (File/AP)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Amnesty: Migrants face ‘vicious cycle of cruelty’ in Libya

  • Libya has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe
  • Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats

CAIRO: Amnesty International said Thursday that thousands of Europe-bound migrants who were intercepted and returned to Libyan shores this year were forcefully disappeared after being taken out of unofficial detention centers run by militias allied with the UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli.
In its latest report, the group also said that rival authorities in eastern Libya forcibly expelled several thousand migrants “without due process or the opportunity to challenge their deportation.”
Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.
Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other Libyan forces to stop the flow of migrants and thousands have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya.
Officials in Libya’s east and west did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Amnesty said about 8,500 migrants, including women and children, were intercepted and brought back to Libya between Jan. 1 and Sep. 14. Since 2016, an estimated 60,000 men, women and children have been captured at sea and taken to Libya where they disembarked, it said.
“The EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse, showing a callous disregard for people’s lives and dignity,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director.
Thousands have been subjected to enforced disappearances in 2020, after being taken to unofficial detention centers in western Libya, including to the so-called Tobacco Factory in Tripoli, run by a government-allied militia, Amnesty said.
There, the migrants and refuges face a “constant risk” of being abducted by militias, armed groups and traffickers.
They are “trapped in a vicious cycle of cruelty with little to no hope of finding safe and legal pathways out,” the report said. “Some are tortured or raped until their families pay ransoms to secure their release. Others die in custody as a result of violence, torture, starvation or medical neglect.”
Eltahawy urged the EU to “completely reconsider” its cooperation with Libyan authorities and make “any further support conditional on immediate action to stop horrific abuses against refugees and migrants.”
In 2020, eastern Libya authorities forcibly expelled over 5,000 refugees and migrants, citing their alleged carrying of “contagious diseases” among reasons cited for the deportations.
Amnesty cited an incident, without saying when it happened, in which eastern Libyan forces blocked a bus from entering the southeastern city of Kufra unless three Chadian nationals got off. They were ordered to take a COVID-19 test and left in the desert outside the city, while other passengers, all of them Libyans, were allowed to enter without further checks or testing.


Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

Updated 21 min 47 sec ago

Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

  • Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday officially confirmed the fears of its NATO allies that it had carried out testing of its controversial Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop, just across the Black Sea from Russian territory.

In a Bloomberg interview, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO’s command-and-control infrastructure, but would instead be “used as a standalone system similar to the use of Russian-made S-300 weapons that exist within NATO.”

With this comparison, Akar implicitly referred to Athens, currently the top challenger to Turkey, which possesses the Russian-produced missiles in its arsenal.

Experts believe that the official statement on Turkey’s testing of the Russian air defense system could stoke tensions between Ankara and Washington, which claims that the missiles pose a serious threat to alliance military equipment.

Meanwhile, NATO defense ministers met on Thursday to discuss issues affecting the alliance’s security.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of think tank The German Marshall Fund of the US, said Turkey’s argument that the S-400 would be a standalone system not connected to NATO’s radar network had been made several times but had failed to reassure the Americans.

The main concern of the NATO allies is that the S-400 could be used to gather sensitive intelligence via systems linked to the F-35 stealth fighter, the next-generation warplane of the alliance.

But Ankara has said that its acquisition of the Russian missiles was necessary to defend itself against current and emerging security threats in its region.

Turkey’s participation in the co-production of the F-35 system was suspended by Washington last year as punishment for buying the Russian military hardware. However, the US had held back from imposing sanctions while the missiles remained in crates, but harsh economic measures are expected to kick in once the missiles are activated.

US Senate Foreign Relations Chair Jim Risch said this week that further sanctions against Turkey, as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), for testing the S-400s still topped his agenda for initiation after the presidential election.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez also issued a statement last week in which he said: “Turkey must be sanctioned immediately.”

Unluhisarcikli told Arab News: “The S-400s being used as a standalone system is unlikely to prevent CAATSA sanctions being imposed on Turkey.”

Ankara has been delaying the activation of the system since April, the planned date for its operationalization. Last month, during a visit to Turkey, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated that the S-400 system could not be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system.

But Unluhisarcikli believes that the efficiency of the S-400 as a standalone system is highly dubious.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said the US did not trust Turkey to block any Russian attempt to infiltrate the F-35 system.

“The Turkish message about not integrating them into the NATO system is being met with suspicions because Turkey has been playing both the US and Russia for a while and benefiting from their bilateral tensions,” he said.

He felt that Turkey had a two-fold objective. “The first is linked to US domestic politics with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggling to get his US counterpart Donald Trump’s attention in the middle of his campaign or he is using the election season to force new preconditions for a potential Joe Biden presidency.

“And second, Erdogan feels a shifting US policy toward Turkey and testing the Russia defense system is a signal that he wants to talk with Washington. Whether Trump or Biden wins, there is no easy recipe for US policy toward Turkey,” Macaron added.