Almost 1,000 refugees pushed back to war-torn Libya in the first two weeks of 2020

EU slammed for funding the Libyan Coastguard while leaving migrants to drown in the Mediterranean

NEARLY 1,000 refugees have been pushed back to war-torn Libya in the first two weeks of the year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said yesterday.

At least 953, including 85 children, were returned to Libya and sent to detention centres, according to the IOM, which provides aid to migrants in the North African country.

“[We have] consistently called for the dismantling of the detention system and the orderly release of migrants,” the organisation said.

“Alternative solutions that safeguard lives must be found to alleviate the suffering of thousands of men, women and children who are held in inhumane conditions.”

Civil migrant-rescue organisations — the only actors saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean since the EU put an end to its search-and-rescue operations last April — savaged the EU’s funding and training of the Libyan Coastguard.

“We have been saying from the get-go that Libya cannot be considered a place of safety,” SOS Mediterranee search-and-rescue co-ordinator Nick Romaniuk told the Morning Star.

The French-German NGO operates the rescue ship Ocean Viking along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“We hear from people post-rescue of their absolute fear of being returned to Libya,” Mr Romaniuk said.

“The only European naval assets that are in the area are aerial. We see these planes signalling the positions of boats in distress, not to NGO vessels but to the Libyan Coastguard.

“It seems to be European policy that these people can either die at sea because they’re not going to be rescued, or they can be intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard and be taken back to what people call hell.”

Axel Steier, co-founder of migrant rescue organisation Mission Lifeline, branded the Libyan Coastguard as “EU-paid criminals that shit on human rights” in a comment to the Star.

“Why is there practically no outcry against these crimes in Europe?” Mr Steier said.

“The kidnapped people are now at risk of torture, slavery, rape and murder. And no court is stopping the EU donors and their Libyan agents.

“Europe’s values and its human rights convention are practically non-existent. This is a war against refugees.”

Julian Pahlke, a spokesman for the German refugee-rescue NGO Sea Eye said: “Returning people on the move to Libya means that they are trapped in this vicious cycle of abuse, violence and immense danger at sea.

“We know that the rescued people are often trying to cross the Mediterranean again after being returned to Libya and have to risk their lives more than once to escape the inhuman conditions in the Libyan detention centres.

“Rescued persons have described these centres as ‘hell on earth’ to us, where many of them are being tortured, sexually abused and some of them even killed.

“Again, it is the EU and its member states that are violating very fundamental human rights to thousands by financing and equipping the so-called Libyan Coastguard.

“We insist that the EU and its member states immediately launch a rescue mission and to not put the most vulnerable in the hands of militias in a war-torn country.”

Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, two NGO migrant-rescue ships were given permission to land in Italy today.

The Sea Watch 3, which rescued 119 people last Friday, was allocated a port in Taranto, Italy, while the 118 refugees who have been on board the Open Arms since Friday will be heading to Messina, Sicily.

“We are happy that our guests can finally step on safe land, but there is still a lot that needs to be changed,” Sea Watch said on Twitter this afternoon.

“Shady deals with Libya, further ad-hoc agreements, EU-funded human-rights abuses — this must stop!

“Getting a safe port fast is the least we can expect from the EU. Grateful this journey can now end.

“We know from past experience of people disembarked and relocated under ad-hoc negotiations that their rights on land are not guaranteed.

“Fair, predictable policy is needed immediately!”