• Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019
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A humane approach to illegal migration

  • Published at 12:02 am September 1st, 2019
Refugee_illegal immigrants
Without a home REUTERS

A tragic drama is unfolding in Europe

Human trafficking and illegal migration have reached unacceptable proportions. The osmotic effect of this equation is proving to be a menace for those trying to gain from this exercise. 

The continuing exodus of people from war-torn Syria and Iraq and tens of thousands from Africa have been adding to the deleterious effects created by people trying to reach Europe.

It has already led to hundreds of people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea during their efforts to cross into Italy or Spain or Greece. The departure points in most cases have been from the northern shores of Libya.

Rana Jawad recently reported about the sorry state of affairs that currently exist in Libya and how the situation is being further exacerbated through the inability of regional and international institutions to restore a degree of order within this intractable paradigm. 

Media houses have touched on the miserable situation that exists in several detention centres for the illegal immigrants who failed to fulfill their dreams of crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. 

Inmates in some of these centres have revealed the existing deplorable conditions that include up to 50 women being locked in a single room with little food and drinking water with just a bucket for a toilet. 

The authorities in charge of supervising such centres sometimes force inmates to face health hazards by remaining in the same room with persons suffering acutely from TB. 

Any effort by an inmate towards protesting against the situation is met with unacceptable torture with electricity.

The BBC has drawn attention particularly to the Triq al-Sikka Detention Centre, run by a pro-government militia in the capital, Tripoli, where the UN provides humanitarian assistance. 

It has been reported that the mishandling of inmates and lack of constructive engagement on the part of the centre authorities is now even leading to self-immolation.

The would-be illegal immigrants have drawn the attention of visiting media personnel to the less than effective measures being undertaken by the UNHCR and its sister agency the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) in this regard. 

These institutions are also being criticized by humanitarian workers for co-operating with the Libyan coastguard despite the surfacing of several reports which have accused several Libyan agencies of human rights violations during some sea rescues.

Since 2015 both the UNHCR and IOM have been providing training workshops and equipment for the Libyan coastguard, who have till now intercepted more than 15,000 people and returned them to Libya last year. 

It is now being claimed by some that this co-operation with the coastguard is compromising the impartiality of the two UN agencies. 

The BBC reports have referred to an interesting observation by a humanitarian worker: “They work together with the EU to ensure that the migration problem is not coming to Europe. This is the aim of the EU and some of the European states, and I think they (UNHCR and IOM) are the implementers of that on the ground.”

The EU has tightened measures to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. This has reduced the influx somewhat. Nevertheless, in the first three months of 2019, some 15,900 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via Mediterranean routes. 

The EU in this regard has issued a statement, where it has reiterated that it “does not seek to stop global migration, but works with international partners to manage international migration, protect migrants’ human rights, prevent perilous irregular journeys exploited by illegal human traffickers, and ensure opportunities for legal and safe pathways. In the case of Libya, the EU works with partners present on the ground, including UN agencies such as UNHCR and the IOM.”

Such an approach has however not been accepted fully by several NGOs who are actively involved in efforts to ensure safety for such migrants.

The interesting feature is that the UN and other non-governmental organizations not only find that Libya is a difficult environment to work in but also despite its potential the UNHCR is not even recognized by the Libyan government in Tripoli. 

This creates further problems rather than answers in the ability of UNHCR and IOM being able to deal effectively with other NGOs on the ground.

The UN-backed government in Tripoli has little power itself. It relies on various armed groups to fight off a rival authority based in the east, led by General Khalifa Haftar. This creates its own turbulence.

Binoy Kampmark has pointed out that the EU Emergency Trust Fund (ETF) created for use in tackling the migration crisis is proving to a source of misuse rather than a source for positive inter-active engagement.

Since 2014 the EU has spent more than $377 million on projects in Libya aimed at helping migrants. This funding was supposed to have facilitated the functioning of UN institutions and NGOs. 

However, a UN audit of the UNHCR published in March 2019 has revealed mismanagement of funds, and multiple instances of failures to assess how much aid was needed, and failures in verifying its delivery. 

The report has also found that $2.9 million had been overspent on aid which was not then used. It has also suggested that bidding for contracts was not always transparent. 

The report has also raised a pertinent question as to why deals were done in US dollars rather than in terms of local currency. 

In July 2018 Human Rights Watch representatives paid a visit to four detention centres in Tripoli, Misrata, and Zuwara. 

A subsequent report indicated that this organization had found inhumane conditions, poor quality food and water, lack of adequate health care, and disturbing accounts of violence. It appears that the situation has continued to deteriorate since then.

Time has come for the EU authorities and UN representatives to be consistent with international legal norms related to refugees. They need to take a more pro-active interest in resolving this inhumane situation. 

The EU, an important protagonist in this tragic drama also needs to help in repatriating these unfortunate refugees back to their respective countries. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador and chief information commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]