(IRIN) Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said he was “determined” to tackle the problem and asked for access to the European Union’s satellite system to help keep tabs on migrants trying to gain access to Europe. Zeidan also said claims that a migrant boat was shot at by militiamen are being investigated.
The country’s transitional government has failed to create an effective police force or army, leaving its borders open, which in turn provides a lucrative opportunity for people-smugglers.
According to Frontex, the European Union (EU)’s border security agency, the lack of such controls makes Libya “the favourite” jumping-off point for migrants seeking to gain access to Europe.
Migrants hail from countries such as Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Chad, Niger, Egypt, and Mali, travelling hundreds of kilometres in order to make the boat journey from Libya to Europe, often attempting the voyage in small, overloaded boats with inexperienced captains and poor quality engines.
The number of migrants leaving Libya for Europe has seen a six-fold increase over the last year, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). It says 4,619 left the country this September compared to 775 during the same month last year.
This month alone hundreds of migrants have died attempting the trip in a series of boat accidents; 359 died when a ship capsized off the coast of Lampedusa and 34 drowned in Maltese waters on 11 October. Both ships had departed from Libya. The crisis has prompted Italy and Malta to press for action on the issue at the upcoming European Council, which is due to take place on 24 October.
“Everything signals that the situation in terms of the number of migrants entering Libya is getting a lot worse, and authorities are failing to cope with the situation on every level,” said Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR’s representative in Libya.
He said a lack of resources, political turmoil, and the deteriorating security situation meant the authorities were failing to take on the people smuggling gangs, provide humane conditions in detention centres, or properly deal with legitimate political refugees.
“Everything signals that the situation in terms of the number of migrants entering Libya is getting a lot worse, and authorities are failing to cope with the situation on every level” “They are reluctant to engage with any refugee principle or framework as they think that it would attract more migrants to Libya,” said Gignac. “I don’t think that is the case. There are already so many coming – I don’t think it can get any worse.”
Libya’s stance together with the surging influx of migrants has led to the indefinite detention of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers.
Evidence of torture
Amnesty International has called for an immediate end to this practice in Libya, calling it “unacceptable”. It visited seven holding centres in April and May this year and found evidence of ill-treatment and torture.
Several cases were documented where detainees, including women, reported being subjected to brutal beatings with water pipes and electric cables. And in two of the detention centres it talked to migrants who reported that detainees had been shot with live ammunition during riots.
Speaking ahead of the next European Commission meeting, on a brief trip to Libya, Malta’s prime minister said the problem needed to be tackled with “political commitment and a clear strategy” and said Libya would have to be “part of the solution”.
“Europe will say that the big problem is in the north because this is the jumping off point into European waters, but the real problem is in Libya’s south. It involves Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.”
A special EU mission is already working in Libya to help tackle the border problems, but its impact has been limited due to the size of Libya’s desert and the fact that the mission is yet to get security clearance to visit the country’s southern region.