Amnesty International on Friday condemned Italy-Libya deal that traps vulnerable migrants in the war-ravaged north African country, describing it as “a shameful display of how far EU governments are prepared to go to keep refugees and migrants from Europe’s shores”.
On 2 February, exactly three years after it was first signed, the Memorandum of Understanding on Migration between Italy and Libya will be extended for a further three years with no amendments.
Under the current deal, Italy helps Libyan maritime authorities to stop boats at sea and return people to detention center in Libya where they are unlawfully detained and face serious abuse, including rape and torture.
“During the three years since original deal was struck, at least 40,000 people, including thousands of children, have been intercepted at sea, returned to Libya and exposed to unimaginable suffering. These include 947 people intercepted this month alone,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“It defies comprehension that, despite the evidence of suffering inflicted as a direct result of this abhorrent deal, and despite the escalation of the conflict in Libya, Italy is prepared to renew it. Italy should demand that Libya release all the refugees and migrants currently held in its detention centres, and that it close those centres once and for all.”
According to Amnesty International, migrants and asylum seekers held in detention centers remain subject to abhorrent conditions of detention, and face serious abuses including torture and rape, as well as overcrowding. In addition, their lives remain at risk due to the escalation of the ongoing conflict.
On 30 January, UNHCR announced that it is suspending its operations at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), a transit centre inaugurated just over a year ago in Tripoli, fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners.
The Memorandum of Understanding was initially signed in an attempt to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy’s shores by keeping people in Libya. Italy agreed to train, equip and support the Libyan Coast Guard and other Libyan authorities, with the aim of allowing them to intercept people at sea and return them to Libya.
The governments decided to extend the deal October 2019. The Italian government had originally committed to negotiate amendments to address the dire situation of refugees and migrants in Libya; however it has now announced that it failed to secure the amendments but will continue to cooperate with Libya nonetheless.
“Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are trapped in an escalating war-zone. Those who try to escape by sea risk interception and return to detention centres, often in conflict areas. By supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, Italy has made itself complicit in this abuse,” said Marie Struthers.
“The Italian and Libyan governments must agree to update the terms of their cooperation, focusing on the protection of refugees and migrants, the evacuation of those currently held in detention centers, and the creation of safe and legal ways for people to get to Europe.”