Migrants rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard |Credit: ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL
Migrants rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard |Credit: ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL

The IOM Chief of Mission in Libya has condemned the fact that migrants rescued by the coast guard in Libya are held in detention centers. He believes that there are four ways to improve the situation for migrants that could immediately be implemented.

Othman Belbesi, the chief of mission in Libya for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), says the practice of automatically bringing migrants rescued in Libyan waters to detention centres in the country is "inacceptable" and that alternatives to detention, including safe spaces and open centres, must be established. Belbesi also calls for those who abuse migrants in detention to be held accountable. 

Belbesi's comments came in an editorial published on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In the opinion piece, he states: "IOM unequivocally does not agree with holding migrants in detention, especially women and children. No one should have their freedom and dignity taken from them". He says there are four practical solutions that could be implemented immediately to improve the situation for migrants returned to Libya. "This is, of course, not to say that there are not more," he adds. 

Alternatives to detention centers

The first option according to Belbesi is to improve the data collection capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard. "This data is an essential prerequisite for protecting migrants against ill treatment, grave human rights violations, deportation and refoulment. It is a start but needs to be properly implemented at disembarkation points," Belbesi writes.

The second alternative, Belbesi writes, would be to "improve infrastructure for screening returned migrants, as well as migrant reception facilities along the coast, to ensure that they get the assistance that they need." 

Demands: Reopen IOM centre and improve migration system 

The third solution would be to allow the reopening of IOM's shelter for vulnerable migrants, which closed in 2011, Belbesi suggests. "This would be a step towards greater protection of migrants in Libya and similar open style shelters could be developed, while the migrant detention centres are phased out with children and victims of trafficking given priority," he says. 

Lastly, Belbesi wants national migration management structures to be enhanced "in a way that is beneficial to migrants and Libyans alike, while respecting human rights and dignity of all - this includes comprehensive legislation on counter trafficking." 

"Unfortunately, globally, we continue to see migrants being criminalized and detained, while smugglers remain free", Belbesi writes. "These are not just suggestions for Libya, they are calls for states all along the route to provide more support". 

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