Migrants, some injured, sleeping on the ground during a sit-in to demand that the international community take them out of Libya, outside the UNHRC office in Tripoli, Libya, October 9 2021 | Photo: EPA/STRINGER
Migrants, some injured, sleeping on the ground during a sit-in to demand that the international community take them out of Libya, outside the UNHRC office in Tripoli, Libya, October 9 2021 | Photo: EPA/STRINGER

The president of the Italy-based NGO Habeshia Agency sent a letter to the European Parliament calling for a "radical revision" of policy towards Libya, especially regarding the thousands of migrants currently stuck there.

Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest and president of the Italy-based NGO Habeshia Agency, has called on the European Parliament to revise its policy towards Libya.

In a letter addressed to the Parliament's president, David Sassoli, Zerai said there is a need "now more than ever for a radical revision of the policy conducted so far" towards Libya "by the European Union in general and by individual states in particular."

'Policy 'walls' can be just as cruel and deadly'

He said that Europe in recent years has already built over 1,200 kilometers of concrete and barbed wire border valleys. But there are also 'walls' made up of "a rigidly closed policy," Father Zerai wrote. These are "just as, if not more, cruel and deadly than the physical ones made of sharp steel blades."

In the letter, Zerai recalled the situation of thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in Libya. "The first step of this change must be a decisive warning to Libya to put an end to the violence and call those responsible to answer for it," Zerai said.

He said Libya must be called, above all, "to respect migrants' fundamental human rights, especially since the recent wave of arrests is looming as the premise for a mass forced repatriation, without considering that for many this decision will mean returning to the dangerous situations and extreme crises from which they fled."

EU closures and pushbacks must stop

Zerai said the true and permanent solution is to "abandon the policy of closure and pushbacks conducted for years by the European Union and Italy in particular."

He said this is a policy that, starting at least from the 2014 Khartoum Process onwards, elected Libya the 'gendarme of the Mediterranean', "with the specific task of blocking migrants who cry out for help to our democracy."

"This blockade is implemented at all costs, conducted often with violence and indiscriminate collective pushbacks, and in any case, without regard to the fate awaiting the thousands of desperate people confined beyond the wall of the European Fortress."

He said that this policy is in "in open contrast with international law, with the 'law of the sea' and, as regards specifically Italy, with its own Republican Constitution."

Libyan Coast Guard has brought back tens of thousands

Zerai is a Catholic priest originally from Eritrea and a previous candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He said that since the start of the year, the Libyan coast guard has "blocked, and not rescued and saved at sea" 27,041 refugees and migrants who managed to escape Libya, "bringing them back and returning them largely to the suffering of detention centers."

He said 7,865 others were arrested on land prior to embarking, or at the southern border and along the routes that lead to the coast.

The Libyan government also directed commercial ships that had picked up and rescued another 353 migrants and refugees at sea to bring them back to Libya.

In all, some 35,259 people "were prevented from asking Europe for help and asylum, as is their inviolable right."

 

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