UNHCR denounces horrible human rights violations to defend Schengen

The latest UNHCR report on illegal immigration reveals horrific human rights violations perpetrated by the governments of Libya, Tunisia and Sudan. These countries governed by authoritarian or unstable governments have transformed collaboration with the European Union to contain migratory flows from Africa into a real business. They are often colluded with human traffickers. Now the business has entered a predictable but unacceptable phase: the killing of illegal immigrants. A reality that the European Union pretends not to know to defend the Schengen area, thus becoming jointly responsible for these crimes against humanity. The Covid19 pandemic is aggravating the situation. Here are all the details.

The report ‘ON THIS JOURNEY, NO ONE CARES IF YOU LIVE OR DIE’, based on a meticulous study carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Danish Refugee Council’s Mixed Migration Center on migration regarding the period from 2018 to 2019, sounds like a charge against Europe that has now become an anachronistic “fortress” thanks to the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement signed in 1990 and entered into force in 1995.

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, co-author of the report, denounces an incredible series of human rights violations perpetrated on migrants that open a serious legal reflection as all the conditions are being glimpsed to proclaim the crime against humanity.

The routes are well known. The main ones are two. The first passes from Niger to Libya and Tunisia (for migrants from West Africa) and the second from Sudan comes directly to Libya (for Eritrean, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Asian migrants). Human traffickers meanly logistic hub on Mediterranean sea are the Tunisian and Libyan coasts, the latter controlled by the government of Tripoli (GNA — Government of National Accord) of the “President” Fayez Al-Sarraj. The only Libyan government recognized by the United Nations that receives substantial economic aid from Europe (primarily from Italy) to contain migratory flows.

The serious violations of human rights are not committed directly by the European authorities but by the African authorities in charge to contain the migratory flows Africa — Europe. Countries governed by authoritarian or unstable regimes such as Libya, Tunisia and Sudan annually receive millions of euros from the European Union to curb illegal immigration. Any agreement of this kind should include strict clauses on respect for human rights, offer adequate means to ensure temporary but dignified accommodation for intercepted and blocked immigrants and constant monitoring on the correct management of the task entrusted to these highly questionable governments.

None of this seems implemented, as emerges from the UNHCR report. The European Union pays African rulers to keep migrants considered an “invasion horde” away from “Fortress Europe” without taking too much care of how the police and armies of these partner nations will be able to contain migratory flows.

In 47% of cases, the victims report unprecedented violence which is in fact strategies authorized by the African authorities that are supposed to protect immigrants. States involved in these serious human rights violations should take full responsibility and review their containment strategies,” says Cochetel.

Tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, often migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia, who hope to cross the Mediterranean, remain stuck in chaos-ravaged Libya, now a key route for illegal migration to Europe. Fleeing the abuses of war-torn Libya, thousands of men and women cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy.

The news reported by the Italian media of the continuous arrival of irregular immigrants highlights the exasperation of local communities, the risk of contagion from Covid19 and so on, giving the impression that our country is constantly under threat of invasion. Excellent and free arguments for populists right parties which, precisely on illegal migration and national security, have managed to attract hundreds of miles of consensus and votes.

Unfortunately, the Italian media don’t analyze the causes of the phenomenon, the responsibilities (including the Italian ones) and the consequences, limiting themselves to reporting alarmist headlines that strengthen the sense of fear and insecurity among the population. Landings in Italy since 2018 have drastically decreased for a terrible reason. The African “partner” countries of the European Union have started killing immigrants.

Since 2018, 2,204 migrants have been reported killed. Of these deaths, 68% appeared to be directly related to crime rather than death solely from illness or accidents along the way. The murders (sometimes real mass executions) take place along the Tunisian and Libyan coasts or on the high seas, just outside the territorial waters. Some African observers believe that these murders are part of a strategy of these African countries (especially of the Tripoli government) to continue the fruitful migration business. The real numbers would surpass the official ones. Many “tragedies” take place on the high seas, away from any indiscreet eye. In 2018, in Sudan, the regime of former President Omar El Baschir was suspected of intercepting illegal migrants on the Libyan-Egyptian border and of “making them disappear” after arrest.

The pressure on Europe exerted by almost 2.5 million African, Middle Eastern and Asian migrants is used by Tunisia, Sudan and Libya as a form of pressure and blackmail to continue receiving funding to curb migratory flows. Whenever this funding decreases or delays in being paid, the respective governments “turn the taps” allowing traffickers (often associated with local authorities) to act with impunity. When funding resumes migratory flows are blocked with mass arrests and detention in subhuman conditions and now extra judiciary executions.

Starting from 2018 when there is a certain “urgency” to stop migratory flows, arrests risk turning into executions. In some cases, the same forces of order would carry out the executions. In others, human traffickers. In late May, 30 people were killed in the city of Mizdah, south of Tripoli, allegedly by traffickers. These are the latest victims of a long series of deaths along the route from West or East Africa and from the Horn of Africa to Libya. A curious fact: Libyan law enforcement rarely arrests traffickers despite the fact that their names are well known.

The same tactic was used in Sudan by the regime of the dictator Omar El Baschir. After the popular revolution, his fall in April 2019 and the establishment of the provisional government, migratory flows from Sudan have resumed without the authorities intervening. The transitional government (formed by the former military junta Transitional Military Council and the Alliance for Freedom and Change) is waiting for the European Union to resume funding to contain migratory flows, a source of precious hard currency.

In the transitional government, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (called Hemedti) plays a first-order role. At the head of the special units of the army: RSF — Rapid Support Forces (formed by the Janjaweed Arab militias responsible for the genocide in Darfur), General Hemedti is suspected of being complicit in human trafficking, as reported by various international organizations in defense of human rights. These suspicions did not prevent General Hemnedti from being one of the main Sudanese interlocutors of the European Union to contain migration flows until a year ago.

In reality, the Libyan, Algerian and Sudanese authorities seem to enjoy immunity certainly not sanctioned but in fact guaranteed by the European Union. This attitude consequently makes the European democratic governments jointly responsible for the crimes.

Since 2018, some western media, including Italians, have repeatedly denounced the violations of human rights committed, for example in Libya. The detention centers (funded by the European Union) are real nazi camps where all types of violence are perpetuate on “illegal” migrants including violence and sexual abuse even on minors.

In late 2017, UNHCR shared human trafficking recommendations with several European states and key agencies to encourage further action to protect refugees and migrants from abuse along the Central Mediterranean route. Following these recommendations, UNHCR, together with the Mixed Migration Center (MMC), sought to further draw attention to human rights violations that occur along multiple sections of the land route (Niger, Libya and Sudan) and in the Central Mediterranean.

The extensive documentation and evidence gathering of these crimes and the UNHCR initiatives seem not to follow corrective actions by the European Union, as if the fact did not concern it. The situation becomes more complex and unsustainable if we consider that African regimes in charge of curbing migration flows are often colluded with human traffickers and European criminal organizations. It is estimated (by underestimation) that illegal immigration offers an annual turnover of around 264 million euros. To these must be added the economic cost supported by the EU to prevent illegal migratory flows: 34.9 billion euros (budget approved by the European Parliament for the 2021–2027 financial year).

In the complicated and dirty business of illegal immigration flows there is even worse. The European Union does not limit itself to financing dubious African governments by running the risk of being complicit in abuses and crimes, abdicating the duty to monitor the containment activities of migratory flows. In July 2019, the Allarm Phone, Borderline-Europe, Mediterranea Saving Humans and Sea-Watch associations denounced in a joint document the European military collaboration with the Libyan coast guard to intercept illegal boats in the Mediterranean through aerial surveillance.

Once the boats are intercepted, the Libyan coastguard intervenes (even beyond territorial waters) to deport migrants to Libya and lock them up in detention camps. Collaboration through the European Air Force and the Libyan Coast Guard effectively prevents NGOs rescue operations. From 2019 the Libyan coastguard has start shooting on NGO ships in order to block these rescue operations.

According to the NGOs signing the complaint document, the European Union, by limiting itself to aerial surveillance and delegating the task of containing migratory flows to African partners, would obtain significant financial savings that would induce European governments not to dwell too much on human rights violations committed by Libyan and Tunisian authorities. European reconnaissance flights play a crucial role in coordinating wiretapping and continue today, despite the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to stop them.

Note that no human traffickers were arrested during these military interception operations of boats in the Mediterranean. The arrested illegal immigrants lose track. If we start from the assumption that for these African governments EU funding for migratory flows is a very good business, and if we associate the growing number of deaths among immigrants with this assumption, it is reasonable to assume that extrajudicial executions carried out by local security forces are tolerated by their respective governments as they are useful to “lighten” the financial relief for assistance (even minimal) to arrested and imprisoned immigrants.

Last June the European Union decided to limit the legal migration flow from Africa to only 4 countries: Algeria, Morocco, Rwanda and Tunisia in order to limit contagion from Covid19. A decision destined to increase attempts at illegal migration, as in fact the legal one is now difficult to cover and difficult to understand given that up to now Africa remains the continent least affected by the pandemic.

The direct consequences of this decision are already evident. European consular services in Africa are in fact almost inaccessible to Africans. Migrants, regardless of their status (tourist, student or worker), are experiencing increasing difficulties to came legally in Europe. In the case of economic migration, a considerable percentage of migrants could opt for illegal immigration despite being aware of the risks and difficulties.

The unilateral EU decision dictated by the Covid pandemic19 and associated with the economic recession already underway, risks having disproportionate and long-lasting negative effects on regular migratory flows and a deterioration of relations, migratory and commercial flows between Europe and Africa. Various African countries are gradually following the example of Senegal to adopt the principle of reciprocity by preventing immigration of European citizens.

The restriction of movements does not only involve the African continent. The United States and other countries are included in the Black List increasing the risk of decisions dictated on the principle of reciprocity which in turn would harm European citizens.

A positive note comes from Italy, the country most affected by the management of the Schengen area which effectively hinders legal and controlled immigration. The current Mr. Conte government intends to amend the Safety Decrees as requested by President Mattarella last year. Among the most significant changes were the expansion of the possibility of accessing humanitarian protection, the revision of the Siproimi reception system, the possibility for asylum seekers to register in the municipal registry and the cancellation of fines for NGO ships in order to prevent them to save migrants at sea.

The text will be submitted to the State Regions and will go to Parliament after the September regional elections. If approved it will help strengthen the protection of migrants. Unfortunately, this important change alone is not enough to solve the so-called “migratory emergency”. The Schengen Treaty must be revised in order to encourage official, protected and regulated immigration.

Collaboration with ambiguous African governments must be profoundly reviewed or interrupted, which on the one hand undertake (under the consent of) to contain migratory flows and on the other participate in the new slave trade. Launch a fight without quarter to destroy the network of human trafficking involving: North African traffickers, European criminal organizations and African criminal organizations installed in Europe. Just think of the thriving Nigerian Mafia who recruited labor from Nigeria. Since 2016, a large part of Nigerian migrants are aware that once they arrive in the Schengen area they will have to work illegally, prostitute themselves or become a workforce for the Nigerian Mafia but agree to leave as the latter is able to organize “safe travels” “And to” manage “them once they arrive in Europe.

To obtain medium-term results, it is also necessary to combine humanitarian assistance with Africa with a profound revision of trade and a European investment plan to start industrial and agro-industrial activities in the Continent. These actions give guaranteed results. Just look at the case of Albania.

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