The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) declared on December 17th that 126 illegal immigrants, including 8 women and 28 children, were returned to Libya after rescuing them in the sea. A horrible accident took place off the coast of Zawiya city a week before, where a migrants’ boat sank. The Libyan Red Crescent found five dead children of Egyptian nationality.
With the increasing number of irregular migrants in Libya, the UNHCR in Libya has rejected any project to resettle African migrants and refugees in Libya.
Dealing with the Migration Phenomenon
UNHCR has requested the EU to launch an initiative in which the countries of origin, transit and destination will cooperate to address migration, thereby protecting the basic rights of migrants in general and of refugees in particular, coinciding with the International Migrants Day.
In a statement issued last Friday, the UNHCR demanded the EU and its member states to reconsider their measures taken to hinder attempts of migrants to reach EU coasts, as their policies are resulting in big human losses.
The UNHCR indicated that the EU countries should not ignore the human nature of the refugees’ crisis and the reasons that led them to flee their country, where poverty, unemployment, instability and violence are widely spread.
UNHCR has expressed concern about the fate of African migrants and refugees returning to Libya from Europe, and that they are suffering physical and psychological torture, ill-treatment and violence. Migrants are also exploited by human traffickers and gangs in Libya.
Libya: The Main Transit Gate
Libya is the main gateway for migrants seeking access to Europe by sea. According to figures from the International Organization for Migration, hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants have arrived in Europe across the sea since the February 2011 revolution, while tens of thousands have died.
Most of those migrants crossed the Mediterranean with unprepared boats, often overloaded by more than twice the allowed number of passengers.
The starting points are the illegal migrants exit zones (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan) in the Horn of Africa, the African Sahel (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon), the Middle East (Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen), and the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia).
Migrants are gathered in specific cities. In the Horn of Africa, they gather in Kassala and southern Kordofan in Sudan, while in the Sahel, the migrants of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are gathered in Agadis, northern Niger.
During the journey, many migrants die, and the survivors arrive in Lampedusa, Sicily, or Sardinia in the Italian south and this journey takes from one day to four days.
As for the Middle East, migrants often come individually through legal crossings, except for Syrians who are banned from entering Libya. Migrants from Tunisia can enter without entry visa through the border crossings of Ras Jedir and Gheithia, while Algerians and Moroccans infiltrate through the western and southern smuggling routes.
Working in Libya is the Price of their Journey
The majority of irregular migrants gather in southern Libyan cities such as Qataroun, Um-rabbit, Suhbhbt, Marzk, and Ubari, where they work in hand labor for several months and sometimes years to collect the needed money to complete the journey to Europe.
The irregular migrant awaits eagerly the second trip, from the southern and southwestern Libyan border cities to the northern coastal ones. That trip is carried out individually or collectively, where armed militias help him to conduct that trip in return for money.
Smugglers drive migrants to the coastal cities using old trucks and going through unpaved roads. Smugglers are often linked to armed militias or under the protection of certain militias to which they pay royalties for protection.
In the third phase of the journey, migrants gather in farms and some other centers in the coastal cities of al-Khams, al-Qorabulli, Tripoli, its Sabratha, Zouara, Benghazi and Sirte to start the trip of the death boats.
When the time comes, the migrant pays the traffickers and gets in the car that will drive him to the coast. Minutes before arriving at the coast, everyone will have to walk to the beach, where rubber boats will be waiting to take them to the bigger boat that will conduct the journey across the Mediterranean.
This stage is carried out by armed militias that make huge financial revenues, and these militias use traffickers owning boats in Libya, Tunisia, Malta, Sqilia and Egypt.
During the journey, many migrants die, and survivors arrive in Lampedusa, Sicily, or Sardinia in the Italian south, where they are often taken by the Italian Coast Guard and held in immigration shelters.
The migrants remain in the shelters until a decision will be taken by the authorities. Some of them will be allowed to cross to any country they want and they are a few, some will be sent back to Libya, while the rest will escape to France, Germany or the UK.
In the past few years, due to the escalating clashes in Libya between the GNA forces and the Libyan National Army, and because of blocking all the land and coastal crossings, thousands of irregular African migrants were trapped in Libya begging the mercy of smugglers and human traffickers.
According to many human rights organizations, migrants trapped in Libya suffer miserable circumstances and face horrible violations including torturing and sexual abuse.