7 February 2014

The Maltese Government should not return asylum seekers to Libya because their safety, lives and freedoms would be at risk, argues the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta in a new report entitled Beyond Imagination.

In Libya, asylum seekers have no chance of getting protection, face racist abuse and are exploited as forced labour and detained in appalling conditions, according to the report.

“We are reiterating our call to the government to refrain from actions that will result, directly or indirectly, in the return of migrants to Libya until the situation there has drastically improved and the Libyan government puts in place effective measures to safeguard human rights and guarantee access to protection in practice”, states Katrine Camilleri, JRS Malta Director.

The report stresses that from the moment migrants cross the border into Libyan territory, they are in constant danger of being imprisoned. People interviewed by JRS Malta state that as soon as they managed to leave one prison, they would often be promptly re-arrested or kidnapped and imprisoned once again. The detention centres for asylum seekers are characterised by overcrowding, poor ventilation and sanitation, overheating as well as lack of food and safe drinking water. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention is also frequent and asylum seekers interviewed spoke of taunting of racist nature, of beatings and other physical abuse.

“When I heard the Maltese government was planning to return some people to Libya, I got a shock, I panicked, I thought it was me they wanted to take back. Dying would be better. Life for us in Libya is beyond imagination… I can never forget. It changes my mood when I remember. It really pains me, it is not good for a man to cry but I cannot express it otherwise, it really pains me deeply,” states Abuubakar one of the people interviewed by JRS.

JRS Malta highlights that the majority of migrants arriving in Malta through Libya are asylum seekers. In 2012, 1,890 individuals arrived by boat to Malta and only 52 migrants did not lodge a claim for international protection at the first opportunity.

“While immigration control is entirely legitimate, we are not permitted to secure our borders at the cost of other people’s lives and safety”, Camilleri stated.

In July 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued an interim ruling against the return from Malta of a group of Somali asylum seekers, in response to an urgent application filed by a coalition of local NGOs, among them the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta.

According to the report, the Libyan coastguard says it stopped 2,200 migrants on the sea in just two months of 2013. JRS highlights that the European Union is helping to train Libyan border patrol guards and to set up systems to control Libya’s 2,000-km long shore. “Even if enthusiasm to control Libya’s borders were matched by equal eagerness to help the country build and apply decent migration and asylum systems, hitherto non-existent, the truth is that Libya today is nowhere near ready to guarantee anybody’s human rights, let alone those of foreigners”, JRS says.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 07 February 2014
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