“When we interviewed migrants in Italy, we found many had been picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard during their initial attempts to escape. It didn’t stop their desperate efforts to reach Europe, it just made them more desperate after they were delivered back to the clutches of militias and state employees who exploit and abuse them. Returning people to detention centres where they are held arbitrarily, and face torture, rape and other serious human rights violations is a clear breach of the international law prohibition of ‘non-refoulement’.
The EU, and Italy in particular, are committed to supporting the Libyan Coast Guard – a coast guard that has shot at NGO boats trying to rescue migrants at risk of drowning – with the result that the NGOs now have to operate much further out to sea. A coast guard that sometimes rescues migrants in distress – but sometimes chooses not to. Like the militias onshore, coastguards also sometimes beat, rob and even shoot the migrants they intercept. Some European authorities play down the behaviour of a Coast Guard which jeopardises lives, while criticizing the NGOs trying to save them.
I do not wish to downplay the Paris agreement, which contains the important recognition that a comprehensive response is needed to this complex situation. But it is very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats, and silent on the urgent need for alternatives to the arbitrary detention of vulnerable people.”