Scapegoats of Fear: Rights of Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Abused in Libya

June 19, 2013

Scapegoats of Fear: Rights of Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Abused in Libya

Amnesty International also found evidence that the Libyan authorities have started deporting foreign nationals diagnosed with infections such as hepatitis B and C or HIV. Compulsory medical tests, which were developed under al-Gaddafi's rule as a prerequisite for foreign nationals applying for a work and residency permits in Libya, were reintroduced at the beginning of 2013.

During and immediately after the 2011 armed conflict, refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa were targeted for their perceived association with the former government after rumours had spread that al-Gaddafi's forces had used African mercenaries. Amnesty International research suggests that, at present, abuses against foreign nationals appear to be mainly motivated by misguided fears of diseases and xenophobia.

Against this backdrop, the European Union (EU) established a civilian technical mission in May 2013 aimed at building the capacity of the Libyan authorities to enhance "the security of Libya's land, sea and air borders". In the long term, the mission, which is known as the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM), aims to support the Libyan authorities in developing a broader "integrated border management" strategy. It is still unclear to what extent EUBAM will be involved in assisting the Libyan authorities in developing a policy towards controlling "irregular migration", but it is likely to provide training and advice to the various agencies involved in border control, including on the "management of migration flows".

In a recently published report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants criticized the EU for the "externalization of border control" by encouraging, financing and promoting detention of "irregular migrants" in non-EU border countries "as a means of ensuring that irregular migrants in third countries are stopped prior to entering the European Union." As part of the European Neighbourhood Policy package for Libya, the EU is funding a project worth 10 million euros that aims, among other things, to enhance "migration management" and assist "vulnerable populations" in detention centres. The first health clinic in a "holding centre" was recently opened by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with EU funding. Additionally, the Italian Ministry of Interior is funding Sahara-Med, another IOM project designed to "prevent, detect and manage irregular migration flows". The Italian Ministry of Interior is intending to finance the refurbishment of a number of detention centres for migrants and provide them with ambulances.

These projects pursue immigration control imperatives set by the EU and appear to disregard the human rights obligations of both Libya and the EU and its member states, including under refugee law and standards. Detention solely for the purposes of immigration control is only lawful when in strict compliance with relevant international human rights law and standards.

In 2008, the EU adopted its own directive15 outlining standards and procedures for the return of "irregular third-country nationals" from member states, whereby detention is only allowed when "there is a risk of absconding" or the individual "avoids or hampers the preparation of return". The directive stipulates that detention should be applied for "as short a period as possible" and "shall be executed with due diligence". These standards, which were developed for internal application, do not appear to inform or be consistent with the EU's external policies and dialogue with third countries.