Three days ago, on November 18, the BBC published an article highlighting the plight of dozens of ‘migrants’ at the Libyan port. According to the article; “dozens of increasingly desperate migrants rescued by a cargo ship in the Mediterranean have been refusing to leave after it docked in a Libyan port.” Journalists have reported that the migrants said they would “rather die than be forced to disembark in Libya where they say they were held captive and tortured by smugglers.”
On November 22, Libyan coast guards forcibly removed the more than 70 migrants from the ship, several migrants were injured in the forced removal and have been hospitalized. The migrants are now placed in Libyan detention centers, which are notorious for human rights abuses including torture and slavery.
Humanitarian protection principles dictate that `displaced people’ or `asylum seekers’ and/or `migrants’ must not be forced to return to place of origin or a third place if there is genuine fear for their safety. We are fully conversant of the treatment of `migrants transported `forced’ to that region so we know their fear is very valid.
As part of the international humanitarian community, we are quick to cry out when Governments in the South, particularly in Africa, engage in plans for IDPs or refugee returns: refoulment is easily bandied about when it comes to refugee hosting countries in Africa. There is usually hell to pay if a Government in the south `dares’ or is perceived to be `enforcing’ returns even when there is no evidence to back such perceptions. The assumption often is that, in the context of countries in Africa, a government planning returns of IDPs must be forcing it, and it does not matter how deplorable the camps are.
Some of the “migrants’ or `asylum seekers’ who are refusing to leave the rescue boat into Libya are Ethiopians who humanitarian actors care so much about when they are IDPs in Ethiopia, but when they crossover to `seek asylum’ in Europe, they become `migrants’. It would be great for organizations that have been developing advocacy strategies and public information products calling out Governments in Africa, when they prioritize returns, to do the same, in calling the leaders of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean who are abdicating on their international obligations.
The blanket use of the term `migrant’ crises minimizes the responsibility of these countries in the West to adhere to international humanitarian and refugee agreements and principles where and when they apply.
We see the double standard and politicization of 'forced return’ playing out in full force, with impunity. It is so interesting how protection issues change according to the location. These kinds of double standards are why international humanitarian advocacy is losing its effectiveness in the south.
Photo: Courtesy of AP.