I am deeply troubled by the grave human rights abuses that migrants and refugees are reported to be suffering in Libya, in particular the persistent abuses that have been reported in Libyan detention centres by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and others.
At the Foreign Affairs Council in December, the EU committed to continue working with the Libyan authorities to improve conditions for migrants and refugees, by ensuring aid reaches those in need of protection, and with a view to overcoming the current system of detention. The European Union recognises that conditions in Libyan detention centres are a matter of great concern and this informs the approach taken in designing programmes funded through the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF).
The EU is providing support to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist migrants inside Libyan detention centres, including with primary medical assistance. The focus of EUTF-funded actions in detention centres run by the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) is two-fold: improving conditions for detainees and assisting detainees with voluntary humanitarian repatriation to their countries of origin. The EUTF is supporting the provision of emergency medical and life-saving services to detained migrants, including psycho-social support. Support is provided for improving sanitary and hygiene conditions, such as by the provision of toilets, showers, storage/distribution capacity for drinking water and sewerage systems, and for the distribution of essential non-food items to detainees. Importantly, the EUTF also supports the provision of human rights and protection training for detention centre personnel.
Country-level programming for a total of €282 million has been approved to date for Libya. The EU is actively working to provide protection, assistance and alternatives to migrants, refugees, internally displaced people and host communities in different locations inside Libya, in particular inside detention centres, at disembarkation points and in urban settings. All projects are implemented by international partners on the ground, such as UN agencies or EU Member States. For example, almost 90,000 refugees and vulnerable migrants have received medical assistance through EUTF programming. Health care centres, clinics, schools and electrical substations have been rehabilitated or equipped. Because the system of arbitrary detention in Libya must be brought to an end, the EU does not provide food assistance in a systematic manner inside detention centres. The EU is firmly opposed to the institutionalisation of the detention system.
Alternatives to detention centres need to be established, in particular for vulnerable migrants, and Ireland has called on the Libyan authorities to continue to work with the relevant international organisations to make this possible. In the shorter term, oversight in detention centres needs to be vastly expanded and improved. All parties, including those with de facto control of territory, have a responsibility to take steps to eliminate ill-treatment of migrants, and to facilitate UN and other humanitarian access to detention centres. However, continued efforts are required to bring an end to the unacceptable conditions migrants and refugees face in Libya.
During the last year, some progress has been made in alleviating the plight of migrants in Libya. In late 2017, the EU stepped up its cooperation with UN agencies and the African Union to accelerate returns from Libya for those migrants who wish to leave, and to establish safe and legal pathways to resettle those who need international protection. This has contributed to the voluntary return of more than 37,000 vulnerable migrants. In early March, the UNHCR carried out its third evacuation of refugees out of Libya this year, bringing the total of those evacuated to over 3,300.
Support to the Libyan Coast Guard through the EUTF is included in the €91.3 million programme of Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management, the first phase of which was adopted in July 2017 and the second in December 2018. This programme provides training, including on human rights, and equipment, notably communication and rescue equipment, as well as developing institutional capacity. The programme also aims to ensure that the Libyan authorities comply with human rights standards in Search and Rescue operations. Ireland shares the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR’s assessment that Libya is not a safe third country. It is for this reason that it is not EU policy to send people back to Libya, but rather to disrupt the business model of migrant smugglers or traffickers, so as to prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean.
Regrettably, political fragmentation and the fragile security situation in Libya limit the capacity of the international community to end these abuses. There is a governance vacuum in many areas of the country, and access for international organisations seeking to monitor and alleviate conditions for migrants is restricted in many areas, including in detention centres. Bringing real improvements to the lives of Libyans and migrants, and ensuring an end to human rights abuses, will require restoration of political stability, and a fully functioning and unified government. The EU will continue to work with the UN and others to support and reinforce Libya's sovereign institutions.
While Libya is the epicentre of this crisis, a long-term solution will require further cooperation from states all along migration routes, and the support of regional partners and the international community. Work to reduce poverty in countries of origin, which is one of the main drivers of irregular migratory flows, is at the core of Ireland’s aid programme.