Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (39)

Maureen O'Sullivan


39. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which he can address the situation in Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre in Libya at EU level; his views on reports from groups such as an organisation (details supplied) regarding the treatment of repatriated detainees; his further views on whether EU policy is problematic, especially the repatriation of migrants to such conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25169/19]

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Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

This question relates to the Qasr bin Ghashir detention camp in Libya. There have been reports from various organisations regarding the treatment of repatriated detainees. It asks whether the EU policy is problematic, especially the repatriation of migrants to such conditions.

Deputy O'Sullivan, who is keeping me busy today, raises a very worrying development. As she will be aware, the situation in Libya has deteriorated significantly in recent months and is extremely dangerous. She highlighted that, as part of the ongoing conflict, an attack affecting migrants was reported in April at Qasr bin Ghashir. There are conflicting reports on what happened but the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, has stated that 12 people were physically attacked and required hospital treatment. The following day, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, IOM, with the support of the Libyan authorities and the UN mission in Libya, evacuated 325 refugees from Qasr bin Ghashir to a safer location.

The EU provides support to the work of the UNHCR and IOM in Libya and their efforts to relocate migrants and refugees to safer places, both inside Libya and, where voluntary return is possible, to their countries of origin. The EU believes that detention centres are not a suitable place for migrants in Libya. However, political fragmentation and the fragile security situation in Libya limit the capacity of the international community to access all areas where migrants are currently located or to influence the situation on the ground. Ensuring an end to human rights abuses will require the restoration of political stability and a fully functioning government.

I continue to be deeply troubled by human rights abuses against civilians in Libya, including migrants and refugees, and persistent reports of abuse in detention centres. The ongoing fighting around Tripoli is endangering thousands of civilians and putting already vulnerable migrants and refugees at further risk.

I agree with the UNHCR's assessment that Libya is not a safe third country for refugees and migrants, and that those rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya. It is not EU policy to send people back to Libya, but rather to disrupt the business model of smugglers or traffickers, so as to prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean.

The final paragraph will be included in the Official Report.

Finally, can I just say because it is important-----

There are Members waiting.

All EU member states have called on the parties to the conflict in Libya-----

It will be in the Official Report anyway.

-----to implement a ceasefire immediately.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The EU has also reminded the parties to the conflict to respect international law, including international humanitarian law, and that those who violate it will be held accountable.

The reality is that people who are rescued in the Mediterranean are being returned to these detention centres. I have had questions and discussions on this previously. I have met NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF and staff, both nurses and doctors, who have been working on the ships and in the detention centres. In the centres, there is appalling abuse of human rights, starvation, malnutrition, rape and violence, and there is a lack of care. To add to that, now some of these detention centres are caught in the fighting between the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshall Haftar, and the UN-backed Government in Libya. It is adding to the misery that they are now caught in the crossfire there, and we know about that particular case in that detention centre approximately 25 km from Tripoli. There have been conflicting reports. I merely want to stress the importance of getting accurate information and then, when we have the information, that action be taken on that particular information.

There was also a report that some of the refugees were being forced into assisting the fighters. All that is going on is appalling. It is immoral, unethical and downright cruel to consign those so-called "rescued" from the Mediterranean to a worse fate by sending them to these centres. There are tens of millions of euro going into supporting the coastguard in Libya for the refugees to go back to those detention centres.

First, it is not EU policy to send refugees and migrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean back to Libya. We do not regard that as safe. There was an understanding with the Libyan coastguard before the recent violence broke out in Tripoli but since then the functioning of Libya as a state and the ability of it to protect migrants in camps has been fundamentally undermined. The case the Deputy referred to earlier to which I responded is a fairly graphic example of that. There are concerns about physical and sexual abuse of both adults and children in many of those camps. It is appalling.

I do not believe that the EU's response in relation to what is now left of Operation Sophia is good enough. That we no longer have EU ships in the Mediterranean focused on search and rescue is not good enough but we could not get agreement on the continuation of Operation Sophia as was, mainly because we could not get agreement around disembarkation and the sharing of the burden in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.

We have on a number of occasions in recent months quietly accepted small numbers of refugees-----

-----from both Malta and Italy-----

-----be reasonable.

-----in relation to rescues but this needs a more fundamental solution from the EU.

We must move on. We have gone a minute over and others are waiting. I call Deputy O'Sullivan for a final question.

I draw the Tánaiste's attention to the fact that in the first week in June, there was a submission to the International Criminal Court relating to the current situation calling for the EU and member states to be prosecuted for the deaths of thousands of refugees and migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to flee Libya. It is difficult to reconcile what the Tánaiste is saying with the reality that millions of euro went into the so-called rescue training of the coastguards. That training left much to be desired because they were taking people from the sea and bringing them to these detention centres. In 2018, 2,500 drowned at sea. Perhaps that was the better fate rather than ending up in one of these detention centres which is a living death. It is against international law that one would return refugees to a centre that is in the middle of a war but that is what is continuing to happen in Libya.

I have stated in both responses that it is not EU policy to return migrants and refugees who are rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya now and I ask the Deputy to stop stating that it is. We do not control the Libyan coastguard. The Libyan Government is now, for obvious reasons, under some threat of violence around Tripoli. The solutions that were potentially there in the past are not appropriate now because of the level of violence and the exposure and vulnerability of refugees, and the inability of the international community, whether the UN or the International Organization for Migration, IOM, to support them. This is why the main focus has to be to end the violence in and around Tripoli so that we can get back to supporting what are very vulnerable communities in many of these camps.