Government Challenged About The Treatment of Refugees in Libya and Allegations that Shots Were Fired on Search and Rescue Vessels – following an open letter to the Prime Minister from Médecins Sans Frontières – Parliamentary Replies September 25th


 

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Three Questions Put To the Government About The Treatment of Refugees in Libya and Allegations that Shots Were Fired on Search and Rescue Vessels – following an open letter to the Prime Minister from Médecins Sans Frontières (see text below)

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL1509):

Question:
Lord Alton of Liverpool To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, during his recent visit to Libya, the Foreign Secretary discussed reports that the Libyan Coastguard threatened and fired upon search and rescue vessels. (HL1509)

Tabled on: 11 September 2017

Answer:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We are aware of such reports. During his visit in August, the Foreign Secretary raised the Libyan Coastguard with Prime Minister Serraj, underscoring the importance of respecting human rights and international law. We have made clear that all vessels must operate in accordance with maritime law and any behaviour that threatens legitimate search and rescue activity is not acceptable. The Libyan Coastguard training package – which the UK is helping to deliver – aims to help develop a corps of professional Libyan Coastguard personnel with the skills required to manage search and rescue activities properly, whilst respecting human rights and international law.

Date and time of answer: 25 Sep 2017 at 16:12.

 

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL1509):

Question:
Lord Alton of Liverpool To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, during his recent visit to Libya, the Foreign Secretary discussed reports that the Libyan Coastguard threatened and fired upon search and rescue vessels. (HL1509)

Tabled on: 11 September 2017

Answer:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We are aware of such reports. During his visit in August, the Foreign Secretary raised the Libyan Coastguard with Prime Minister Serraj, underscoring the importance of respecting human rights and international law. We have made clear that all vessels must operate in accordance with maritime law and any behaviour that threatens legitimate search and rescue activity is not acceptable. The Libyan Coastguard training package – which the UK is helping to deliver – aims to help develop a corps of professional Libyan Coastguard personnel with the skills required to manage search and rescue activities properly, whilst respecting human rights and international law.

Date and time of answer: 25 Sep 2017 at 16:12.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL1508):

Question:
Lord Alton of Liverpool To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to respond to the letter from Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, that was sent to the Prime Minister on 6 September concerning the conditions faced by people detained in Libya. (HL1508)

Tabled on: 11 September 2017

Answer:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We are aware of Medecins Sans Frontieres’ open letter to the Prime Minister and share their concerns about the standards of treatment those in detention face. This is why we are providing assistance to improve conditions in detention facilities as well as encouraging Assisted Voluntary Returns, and will continue to do so. This activity is specifically designed to protect migrants’ human rights and improve conditions. It is underpinned by the ‘do no harm’ principle and we have checks in place to make sure that is the case. The key is to break the business model of smugglers and to prioritise interventions upstream in countries of origin and transit to reduce the need of migrants to leave their home country or move on from a safe third country in their region.

Date and time of answer: 25 Sep 2017 at 15:36.

Dear Lord Alton of Liverpool,

 

Given your interest in refugee issues, I thought you might be interested to see the attached letter from Joanne Liu, International President of Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), sent to the Prime Minister on September 6th.

 

It highlights the appalling conditions faced by people trapped in Libya, which are sadly exacerbated by the policies of European states – the UK included.

 

As you may be aware, the Foreign Secretary recently visited Libya to praise the work of the UK-trained coastguard. But he failed to mention that the Libyan Coastguard has put lives at risk at sea by threatening and even firing upon search and rescue vessels – MSF included. He also failed to address the appalling conditions inside Libyan detention centres, where UK policies are helping to trap desperate people.

 

On a recent visit to these detention centres, MSF UK’s Executive Director Vickie Hawkins saw these people and heard their stories. They included a 12-year-old boy from Mali, picked up by the Libyan coastguard after watching his parents drown in front of him in the clear waters of the Mediterranean. He was returned by that coastguard into a detention centre which is completely unfit for unaccompanied minors. He was sat alone in a detention centre surrounded by adult males. 

 

She also met a Nigerian woman who had lived with her husband and children in Libya for the last four years. Her husband had been in Libya for over eight years, working in Tripoli with no intention of travelling to Europe. Yet she had been picked up off the street by a militia, thrown into a detention centre and left in complete limbo ever since. She’s had one call to her husband in the ten months she’s been locked-up. He’s saving all the money he can to buy her freedom.

 

While MSF does not challenge the right of the UK or any other governments to manage migration, we do believe that this must be done in as humane a way as possible rather than merely pushing it beyond our borders. Sadly, all the evidence we have seen shows that the UK’s current policy is simply compounding the misery and suffering of migrants and refugees. These people are fleeing Libya and current policies from the UK and EU are pushing them back into the horror from which they are attempting to escape.

 

We have written to the Foreign Secretary to raise our concerns, and would be very happy to meet with you to discuss this further, should that be of interest.  Please do let me know if so.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Andre Heller Perache

Head of Programmes, MSF UK

 

On behalf of

 

Vickie Hawkins

Executive Director, MSF UK
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Lower Ground Floor, Chancery Exchange, 10 Furnival Street, London EC4A 1AB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7404 6600 | Fax: +44 (0)20 7404 4466

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is an independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid in more than 60 countries.

Letter to:

The Rt. Honourable Theresa May, MP

Prime Minister

Office of the Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London

SW1A 2AA

06 September 2017

Re: European governments are feeding Libya’s business of suffering

Dear Prime Minister,

What migrants and refugees are living in Libya should shock the collective conscience of Europe’s citizens and elected leaders.

Blinded by the single-minded goal of keeping people outside of Europe, European funding is helping to stop the boats from departing Libyan waters, but this policy is also feeding a criminal system of abuse.

The detention of migrants and refugees in Libya is rotten to the core. It must be named for what it is: a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion. And European governments have chosen to contain people in this situation. People cannot be sent back to Libya, nor should they be contained there.

MSF has assisted people in Libyan detention centres in Tripoli for over a year, and has witnessed first-hand the scheme of arbitrary detention, extortion, physical abuse and deprivation of basic services that men, women and children suffer in these centres.

I visited a number of official detention centres last week and we know that these official detention centres are just the tip of the iceberg.

People are simply treated as a commodity to be exploited. They are packed into dark, filthy rooms with no ventilation, living on top of one another. Men told us how groups of them are forced to run naked in the courtyard until they collapse from exhaustion. Women are raped and then made to call their families back home asking for money to be freed. All the people I met had tears in their eyes, asking again and again, to get out. Their despair is overwhelming.

The reduced numbers of people leaving Libyan shores has been lauded by some as a success in preventing loss of life at sea, and smashing smugglers’ networks.

But with the knowledge of what is happening in Libya, that this should be lauded as a success demonstrates, at best, pure hypocrisy and at worse, a cynical complicity in the organised business of reducing human beings to merchandise in human traffickers’ hands.

The people trapped in these well-documented, nightmarish conditions in Libya need a way out. They need access to protection, asylum and increased voluntary repatriation procedures. They need an escape to safety via safe and legal passage, but to date, only a tiny fraction of people have been able to access this.

This horrific violence against them must stop; there needs to be a basic respect for their human rights including access to sufficient food, water and medical care.

Despite declarations by governments that improvements need to be made to peoples’ immediate conditions, this is far from happening today.

Instead of confronting the vicious cycle that their own policies are creating, politicians have hidden behind unfounded accusations towards NGOs and individuals who attempt to help people in dire straits. During its Search and Rescue operations at sea, MSF has been shot at by the European-funded Libyan coast guard and repeatedly accused of collusion with traffickers. But who is colluding with criminals here? Those seeking to rescue people, or those enabling people to be treated like a commodity to be packed and sold?

Libya is just the most recent and extreme example of European migration policies which go back several years, where a primary objective is to push people out of sight. The EU-Turkey deal from 2016, what we have seen in Greece, in France, in the Balkans and beyond, are a growing trend of border closures and push backs.

What this does is close options for people who seek safe and legal ways of coming to Europe and pushes them further and further into the smugglers’ networks, which European leaders insist they want to dismantle. Safe and legal avenues for people to cross borders are the only way to eliminate the perverse incentives that allow for smugglers and traffickers to thrive whilst at the same time fulfilling border control objectives.

We cannot say that we did not know that this was happening. The predation on misery and the horrific suffering of those trapped must end now.

In their efforts to stem the flow, is allowing people to be pushed into rape, torture and slavery via criminal pay offs a price European governments are willing to pay?

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Joanne Liu International President Médecins Sans Frontières