Bookmark and Share

Yemane Mesgen eventually made it to Germany after a treacherous journey as a refugee [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]

by

Multimedia Journalist

Berlin, Germany - The most crucial decision for a person forced to flee their homeland is where to seek asylum. That is the hard lesson learned by Yemane Mesgen on his harrowing journey as arefugee.

Mesgen was born and raised inEritrea, where the government hascommitted crimes against humanity, including indefinite military or police service, according to the United Nations. In 2008, after he was recruited to be a policeman, Mesgen decided to flee his homeland. He considered going toEurope, but was afraid of the dangerous journey acrossLibyaand the Mediterranean Sea.

Instead, he choseIsraelas his destination for asylum.

The Israeli government "does not like refugees", the 28-year old Mesgen recently told Al Jazeera in the German capital. He spoke nearly fluent Hebrew, which he picked up during the seven years he lived in Israel.

Mesgen managed to safely crossSudanthrough the Sinai desert - where many Eritreans have beencaptured and tortured- and entered Israel in 2008.

Unfortunately for Mesgen, however, the Israeli government has been unwelcoming to Eritrean nationals, granting refugee status to less than one percent of arrivals.

Israel does not deport Eritreans back to their dangerous homeland because that would violate theUnited Nations Refugee Convention. Instead, Eritreans get short-term visas that must be continuously renewed, but they have no right to work or access to welfare services.

READ MORE: Meet the Eritrean refugee turned rescue volunteer

Mesgen lived in this legal limbo for seven years, getting by by working illegally in restaurants and sharing a tinyJerusalemflat with other Eritreans. Then, in 2015, Israeli authorities ordered him to reside in Holot, adetention centre for "illegal immigrants",which has the capacity to accommodate 3,000 people, without freedom of movement or the right to work.

The only other alternatives offered to Mesgen - andother Eritreans- were to return home voluntarily or leave Israel for another African nation. "I didn't want to go to Holot," Mesgen recalled. "I told them I cannot go back to my country, but I will go back toAfrica."

In July 2015, an Israeli immigration officer escorted Mesgen to Ben-Gurion international airport, handed him a one-way ticket toRwandawith a travel document for Rwandan immigration officials, and $3,500 in cash - the reward for those who exit Israel voluntarily.

The initiative was launched by the Israeli Immigration Authority in 2013 to persuade asylum seekers to leave the country. Mesgen is one of more than 14,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, who have left Israel through the voluntary departure programme over the past three years.

Israel - a signee of the UN Refugee Convention - sends people who need protection to countries that do not protect them, in the process, forcing asylum seekers to go on dangerous smuggling routes, according to reports by international and IsraeliNGOsand interviews that Al Jazeera conducted with Eritreans who made it to Europe.

False promises

Before leaving Israel, Mesgen received a letter that the Population and Immigration Authority distributed to Eritreans in the country. The letter promised those who leave voluntarily will be granted a residence permit and the right to work in the African country where they land. But when Mesgen arrived in Rwanda, he realised those promises were empty.

He said a man who introduced himself as "John from immigration" picked him up from a restricted area in Rwanda's international airport, took away the Israeli travel document, escorted him to a villa in the capital Kigali where other Eritreans stayed, and told him not leave the premise. After two days, John told the Eritreans he would smuggle them toUgandain exchange for $250 a person.

A letter presented to refugees on arrival in Rwanda [Yermi Brenner/Al Jazeera]

Mesgen's story about what happened to him in Rwanda is similar to testimonies from other Eritreans who exited Israel via the voluntary departure procedure.

Research by theInternational Refugee Rights Initiative - a non-profit organisation focusing primarily on Africa - found Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who left Israel voluntarily were sent to Rwanda and Uganda. Upon arrival, they were either encouraged to leave these countries, or live under the radar without legal status.

In the reportDeported to the Unknownby theHotline for Refugees and Migrants - a Tel-Aviv based NGO -Eritreans who left Israel voluntarily testified they were denied residence permits in Rwanda, heldcaptive fordays at a villa in Kigali, and eventually were smuggled to Uganda.

Secret agreements

The legality of Israel's voluntary departure procedure was challenged in an Israeli court in 2014. The state declared it has secret agreements with two unidentified African countries to take in Eritreans and Sudanese who leave Israel. Revealing the identity of the two African countries and details of the agreements "may harm Israel's foreign relations", according to aletterthat Israel's Prime MinisterBenjamin Nethanyausent to the court.

Al Jazeera asked Israel's Population and Immigration Authority what it does to ensure the safety of those who voluntarily exit. Spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said in an email she could not provide details because the agreements Israel has with the two unnamed African countries are confidential.

READ MORE: Eritrean refugees in Israel sent to Uganda and Rwanda

For Mesgen, the journey from Rwanda toGermanywas both dangerous and costly. He travelled on smuggling routes across Uganda and intoSouth Sudan, where he was caught and imprisoned for two months.

"The South Sudan authorities told me, 'You don't have a passport so you might be a criminal.' I told them I am not a criminal - I said I was in Israel and now I came here. They said to me you don't have a passport, you don't have any Israeli document, you don't have Eritrea passport, it is dangerous for us. We cannot let you out of the prison," Mesgen recalled.

He bribed his way out of jail and continued his treacherous journey through Sudan and Libya to the coastal city of Benghazi, where he boarded a 10-metre-long fishing boat that would take him toItaly.

"There were 600 people on board, there was no space at all, people on top of each other, very tight. There were a lot of Eritreans and Somalis and other Africans," he said. "It was, of course, very scary to board this boat, but what can I do, I had no other choice."

'Burden-shifting'

While the Israeli court legitimised voluntary departure, theUnited Nation High Commission on Refugeeshas been critical of its implementation.

"We are concerned and we have raised the concerns with the government of Israel because we do have information that [refugees] are not necessarily having the necessary protection safeguards," UNHCR's representative in Israel, Walpurga Englbrecht, told Al Jazeera.

Englbrecht said Israel should provide assurances that asylum seekers who leave for the African countries will indeed be granted adequate documentation, residency permits, and the ability to work. UNHCR is not against voluntary departure, but Englbrecht said the procedure is problematic "if it is not really responsibility-sharing, but more burden-shifting".

READ MORE: Calais - Eritrean refugees tell of torture and fear

Israel is not the only one to implement voluntary departure procedures -Australiaand the European Union have similar systems in place. But the fact its agreements with Rwanda and Uganda are confidential raises red-flags, saidReuven Ziegler, aresearch associateat the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

Ziegler said asylum seekers have a "very precarious status, if at all" in Rwanda and Uganda, do not have access toRefugee Status Determination, and find themselves having to continue their journey and seek protection elsewhere.

That is exactly what happened to Mesgen and also to Aman, a 31-year-old Eritrean who spoke to Al Jazeera in Berlin. Aman - who today has refugee status in Germany - asked that his real name not be used because his mother and sister still live in Eritrea and he fears for their safety.

No monitoring

He fled his homeland in 2008 to avoid recruitment into the military. Relying on people smugglers, Aman tried to reach Israel where he thought he would be able to get protection status. On his way, however, he was abducted in Sinai - as wereas many as 30,000 Eritreans - and held captive for 35 days until his family paid ransom for his release. Aman said he was tortured and beaten, and pointed to a broken front tooth as one of the consequences of that horrific experience.

In Israel, he never received refugee status and had to renew his visa every fours months. He managed to find work illegally as a kitchen cleaner, and made enough money to survive - even enough to send to his mother in Eritrea.

"In Israel, I felt stress … I had some work but not freedom," Aman said. "There's no democracy in Israel."

In April 2014, after he was summoned to the Holot Detention Centre for Illegal Immigrants, he agreed to voluntarily leave the country. He said on his flight out of Israel 39 other Eritreans were with him, none ended up staying in Rwanda.

Israel does not monitor what happens to the Eritreans and Sudanese who land in Rwanda and Uganda, according to Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator at theHotline for Refugees and Migrantsand author of theDeported to the Unknownreport.

"All the 47 interviewees that we managed to locate ... were not asked to provide phone numbers or addresses to the Israeli authorities, and, of course, they had no contact with the Israeli authorities after they left," Rozen said.

The majority of Eritreans plan to smuggle their way intoEthiopiaand try to survive there, while some head on the dangerous route through Sudan and Libya for Italy, with the hope of finding refuge in Europe.

"We receive a lot of calls and emails from worried relatives around the world - and also in Israel - about people who left and disappeared," Rozen said.

Captured by ISIL

Aman said five Eritreans aboard his flight out of Israel tried to make it to Europe but were captured and killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group in Libya. He pulled out his phone and played an online video byISIL, known as ISIS - showing preparations for beheadings - and identified two people he knew being led to their deaths.

While Aman did not fall into ISIL's hands, he faced significant danger and uncertainty. Similar to Mesgen's story, Aman said when he landed in Kigali he was sent to a nearby hotel and two days later was smuggled out of Rwanda to Uganda.

From there, he tried to reach South Sudan, but was caught by border guards who did not let him leave until he surrendered all the money he had left from the $3,500 that Israeli authorities handed him when he left. They let him keep $50 and told him to go away.

"I didn't have clothes, I didn't have a bag, nothing," Aman said.

WATCH: Identity of 'smuggler' extradited to Italy questioned

His younger brother was in Israel at the time, but now also lives in Germany. He sent Aman some money to Juba, capital of South Sudan. After collecting the cash, Aman travelled to Khartoum, Sudan's capital, where he met his wife who he had not seen in six years.

She is an Eritrean who had been living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The couple made their way through Libya - where they again were captured and forced to pay ransom - and then across the Mediterranean Sea on an overcrowded smugglers' boat with hundreds of other people from various countries.

No data is available on how many asylum seekers who left Israel voluntarily made it to Europe. However, it is well documented that more than 10,000 peoplediedin the Mediterranean Sea over the past three years trying to reach its shores.

Since 2008, about 123,000 Eritreans have applied for asylum in the European Union, mostly in Germany andSweden.

The lucky ones

Aman and his wife arrived in Germany in October 2014. He said the journey from Rwanda to Germany cost $11,000, which was spent on official bribes and smuggler payments.

Mesgen - who was aboard a smuggling boat that was lost at sea for 48 hours before being rescued by the Italian navy - managed to reach Germany in September 2015. He said he paid $10,000 for a similar trip.

Both men were eager to tell their stories because they know many Eritreans still in Israel and wanted to raise awareness about the consequences of the voluntary departure programme. Aman and Mesgen emphasised how fortunate they were to survive.

There are 29,367 Eritreans still in Israel, according to the latest data published by the Israeli Immigration and Population Authority. As of last December, there were 1,860 Eritreans and Sudanese living in the Holot Detention Centre for Illegal Immigrants, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In Germany,Aman's and Mesgen's asylum applications were reviewed within months, and they were granted refugee status with all itssocial and economic rights. Throughout the EU, about 93 percent of Eritrean asylum applicants are granted some form of protection. 

Aman and Mesgen are currently full-time students at a state-funded language school, and both recently became fathers for the first time. Aman and his family live in the centre of Berlin, while Mesgen, his wife - also an Eritrean refugee - and toddler have a two-room flat on the southern outskirts of the German capital.

The rent for both their apartments is covered by Germany's welfare system, and each family gets a monthly allowance of about 1,000 euros ($1,050).

"I am happy to be here," Mesgen said recently outside a Berlin church that serves a community of Eritrean refugees every Sunday morning. "Here it is good, thank God. I'm lucky."

Source=http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/02/rejected-israel-eritreans-find-shelter-germany-170221071249657.html

ByTom Gardner

ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ban on Eritrean refugees working in Ethiopia is hampering efforts to reduce illegal “secondary” migration, with tens of thousands risking violence and drowning in pursuit of a better life, the Overseas Development Institute said on Thursday.

"Ethiopia is a vital country of asylum, offering the prospect of freedom and security," said the British think tank, but it added: "Refugees are not allowed to work in Ethiopia, making it hard to build a future in the country."

Hence, it said, most Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopian camps wanted to escape to a third country in the hope of winning work, security and a settled life.

About 5,000 refugees flee Eritrea each month to escape poverty, political persecution and the prospect of potentially indefinite military conscription.

Some 155,207 currently live in neighboring Ethiopia, home to nearly a million refugees - the second largest refugee population in Africa - thanks to its open-door asylum policy.

But in 2014, 84 percent of Eritreans interviewed in Ethiopia said they planned on‘moving to another country’, while around two-thirds pursued so-called secondary migration in 2015, according to Amnesty International.

"People tend to give life a go in neighboring places – Sudan, Ethiopia – and only turn to options further afield once they realize those situations aren’t tenable in practice," Richard Mallett, one of the report's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many are then destined for Europe, undeterred by increasingly restrictive immigration policies, with Eritreans forming the fifth largest group of irregular arrivals on European shores in 2016.

Most crossed from Libya, the most dangerous route over the Mediterranean, exposed to violence, torture by smugglers, and the deadly risk of the sea itself, according to a report by Medicins Sans Frontieres published last month.

According to the ODI report, those who embark on the often perilous onwards journey from the Horn of Africa do so despite the promise of comparative freedom and security in Ethiopia, and the livelihood support policies, such as loan and training programs, offered by NGOs there.

Because Eritreans are prevented from legally accessing the Ethiopian labor market -- in contravention of the right-to-work enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention -- any skills and capital they acquire through such programs cannot be put to full use, the report said, causing frustration and hopelessness.

Under Ethiopian law, refugees are prevented from engaging in formal employment, regardless of whether they live in camps or cities, though some find casual labor or bend the rules.

The evidence suggests that many people will be more inclined to stay in Ethiopia if refugee labor rights are enhanced, the report said, since informal work is often insecure, badly paid, and exploitative. For women it can mean prostitution.

The World Bank, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other international organizations have highlighted the success of nearby countries, such as Uganda, which offer refugees extensive employment rights.

It said Ethiopia’s refugee policies were counterproductive.

“The support that is being provided by such programs is for the most part overshadowed by refugees’ lack of access to decent work – work that is reliable, adequately paid and that draws on their skills,” the report said.

(Reporting by Tom Gardner. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

Source=http://www.reuters.com/article/us-eritrea-refugees-idUSKBN1692HL

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

This was revealed in a UN report

 

 
 
Flag of Nigeria

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has raised an alarm that refugees and migrants, many of them Nigerians, are taking more “diversified and dangerous journeys” to cross rough seas.
The UNHCR Director of Europe Bureau, Vincent Cochetel, while releasing a new report: “Desperate Journeys,” on Monday in New York, said the migrants and refugees are relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas to Europe.
Cochetel said increased border restrictions and lack of accessible legal ways to reach Europe have caused more desperation among refugees and migrants.
He said: “About 90 per cent of them travelled by boat from Libya, and the top two nationalities of those arriving were Nigerians (21 per cent) and Eritreans (11 per cent).
“This route is particularly dangerous and in 2016 more deaths were recorded at sea than ever before.
“Furthermore, children making this journey are especially vulnerable, and the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving is increasing.
“Last year more than 25,000 came, representing 14 per cent of all new arrivals in Italy.
“Their number more than doubled compared to the previous year.”
Cochetel explained that the “closure” of the Western Balkan route and the EU-Turkey decision in March 2016, caused a drastic decrease in the number of people reaching Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean route.
He said: “This report clearly shows that the lack of accessible and safe pathways leads refugees and migrants to take enormous risks while attempting to reach Europe, including those simply trying to join family members.
“However, since then, the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy becomes the primary entry point to Europe and arrival trends in Italy show that the primary nationalities who crossed to Greece had not switched in significant numbers to the Central Mediterranean route.
“In addition to drowning, migrants and refugees also risk being kidnapped, held against their will for several days, physical and sexual abuse, torture and extortion by smugglers and criminal gangs at several points along key routes.”
The UN refugee agency pointed out that in 2016, some 181,436 arrived in Italy by sea in need of international protection, and also victims of trafficking and migrants seeking better lives.
The report also showed that in the last part of 2016, more people reached the continent through the Western Mediterranean route, either by crossing the sea to Spain from Morocco and Algeria, or by entering the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
Similarly, people continued to leave Turkey along the Eastern Mediterranean route from April onwards, but in much smaller numbers, it said.
Cochetel explained that most crossed the sea to Greece or Cyprus, others also crossed via land into the country or into Bulgaria.
He said: “Most who arrived by sea to Greece (87 per cent) came from the top ten refugee producing countries.
“This was also the case for those who continued to move along the Western Balkans route: in Serbia, for instance, 82 per cent of those who arrived came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and almost half are children – 20 per cent of those unaccompanied.”
Cochetel said these numbers, however, have reduced since April 2016.
He said the study revealed that tens of thousands of people also have been reportedly pushed back by border authorities in Europe, including in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Spain and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The UNHCR also regretted that there were many cases of alleged violence and abuses in an apparent efforts to deter further entry attempts.
NAN.

Source=http://theeagleonline.com.ng/nigerians-eritreans-top-list-of-those-taking-enormous-risks-to-europe-unhcr/

 

 
 
ByJames Pearson

North Korea is evading international sanctions with a sophisticated network of overseas companies, enabled partly by its continued access to the international banking system, says a forthcoming United Nations report seen by Reuters.

North Korea is under heavy U.N. sanctions and a strict arms embargo designed to impede the development of its banned nuclear and missile programmes. The U.N. panel of experts, which produced the 100-page draft report, was created to investigate reported infringements of those sanctions.

“Designated entities and banks have continued to operate in the sanctioned environment by using agents who are highly experienced and well trained in moving money, people and goods, including arms and related materiel, across borders,” the report says.

U.N. member states should “exercise heightened vigilance” over North Korean diplomats engaged in commercial activities, it says, because some may be providing financial support to illegal networks.

North Korea "is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication," the report says.

It details a previously unknown interdiction of North Korean-made military communications equipment destined for Eritrea in July last year.

The interdiction was the second time North Korean military equipment bound for Eritrea had been intercepted, indicating an ongoing arms trade between the two countries, the report said.

The seized equipment, part of an air shipment, included 45 boxes of battlefield radios and accessories, the report says. 

The radios were manufactured by a Malaysia-based front company called “Glocom”, which is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the sanctioned North Korean intelligence agency tasked with overseas operations and weapons procurement, the report says.

INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

The report identifies two North Korean trading companies which, according to an unidentified U.N. member state, are linked to sanctioned entities, including the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The report also outlines North Korea’s use of the financial system to pay for its sanctioned operations.

“Behind these illicit activities is the continued access of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the international banking system,” the report says, using North Korea’s official title.

“Despite strengthened financial sanctions in 2016, the country’s networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels,” the report said.

In cases where financial access is more restricted, North Korean agents use bulk cash and gold to circumvent the financial system entirely, and at times use foreign citizens as middlemen and facilitators.

The report says North Korea continues to export banned minerals despite last year's sanctions putting a cap on coal exports, a key source of hard currency for the state’s nuclear and missile programmes. 

China has said it would ban coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year. On Thursday, North Korea issued a rare reproach of China, its main diplomatic backer, over the ban.

The U.N. report says enforcement of sanctions against North Korea "remains insufficient and highly inconsistent" and calls for additional measures to address shortcomings.

(Reporting By James Pearson; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Source=http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-northkorea-sanctions-un-idUKKBN164045

Eritrean refugees in Sudan – held ransom

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 12:16 Written by

by Martin Plaut

It could have been a tragedy: six Eritreans were arrested by the Sudanese police and threatened with deportation back to Eritrea (or what is termed ‘refoulment’ by the United Nations refugee agency.)

The six were in a dire condition, having only just managed to escape from people traffickers. The two women and four men had walked for three days when they were picked up by police on Saturday in an area 2 - 25 kilometres from Khartoum.

At this point they were told they would be taken to court, which was likely to return them to Eritrea, from which they had just escaped. The group would have faced arrest, indefinite detention and possible torture if they were returned.

Thanks to the rapid intervention of lawyers the six were released after paying a fine of 1,200 Sudanese pounds. This is a great deal of money, nearly $US 200 at the official rate of exchange.

Human rights activists say the Sudanese police regard the Eritreans as a source of income. But for the impoverished Eritrean community the strain of collecting and paying these fines is unbearable. And there are reports of another four Eritreans being held in another prison.

 

 
fromMédecins Sans Frontières
Published on27 Feb 2017http://img.static.reliefweb.int/profiles/reliefweb/themes/kobe/images/icon-external-link.png) 0px 0px no-repeat transparent;">View Original

EU prevention policy puts Eritreans at risk of imprisonment, torture and death

Despite mounting evidence of inhumane treatment faced by Eritreans, both within and outside Eritrea, the EU is doing all it can to prevent them from reaching its shores, says a new report published today by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The report is based on hundreds of conversations and 106 in-depth testimonies from Eritreans who have fled their country. In MSF’s medical projects in Libya, Ethiopia and on its rescue boats in the Mediterranean, Eritreans arrive almost every day with wounds, heavy scarring and other medical conditions, including severe psychological illnesses, that are consistent with their testimonies.

Every Eritrean interviewed by MSF teams on its search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea reports being either a direct victim or a witness to severe levels of violence, as well as being held in captivity of some kind. More than half report having witnessed the deaths of fellow refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, most often as the result of violence.

Every Eritrean woman interviewed has either directly experienced or knows someone who has experienced sexual violence, including rape, often inflicted by multiple perpetrators.

It is illegal for Eritreans to leave the country without an exit visa, which are notoriously difficult to obtain. Those who are able to escape face extended periods in refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia; physical, psychological and sexual violence; arbitrary detention and deportations in Libya; and dangerous sea crossings to Europe – a crossing which claimed the lives of at least 4,500 people in 2016 alone.

Rather than developing safe and legal routes for those seeking international protection, the EU is increasingly collaborating with Eritrea, Libya, Sudan and Ethiopia to prevent Eritreans from leaving Eritrea and transiting through these countries to reach Europe.

The EU’s attempts to stem migration through strengthening national borders and bolstering detention facilities outside its borders leave people no choice but to pay smugglers to get them past checkpoints, across borders, through fences, out of prisons and ultimately onto boats on the Mediterranean Sea.

Vickie Hawkins, MSF UK Executive Director: “It is vital that the UK government provides channels to safety for Eritreans, and indeed all people fleeing conflict and persecution. Efforts to manage migration should not externalise border controls to unsafe countries - wherever they may be.

"Given the UK Prime Minister’s commitment to lead a ‘truly global Britain which reaches beyond Europe’, the UK must lead by example in ensuring vulnerable people who are in need of asylum are able to seek it safely. MSF insists that people seeking protection must not be abandoned or left trapped in unsafe places, with no option but to risk their lives on a perilous journey.

"Containment is not the answer; UK policies should never trap or force people into danger. Appallingly, current policies do just that”.

ENDS

Notes to editors

According to the Guardian, new guidance on Eritrea issued by the UK Home Office in 2015 resulted in the levels of grants of asylum to Eritreans plummeting from 85% to 60%. However, 87% of those refused under the new guidance had their refusals overturned by judges on appeal.

The Local

Amnesty slams Switzerland’s 'illegal' treatment of migrants at Italian border
Amnesty organized a flashmob in support of refugees in Rome last June. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
12:24 CET+01:00
Amnesty International has criticized the actions of Switzerland in turning back migrants at the Italian border last year, saying it acted “illegally”.
In a press release accompanying its annual report 2016/17, published on Wednesday, Amnesty said the Swiss authorities “had illegally turned back several thousand asylum seekers to Italy”. 
Among them were “several hundred unaccompanied minors, many of them who had relatives in Switzerland,” it said.
Switzerland’s border guards hit the headlines last summer when reports emerged that migrants trying to get into the country at the border with Italy in the canton of Ticino were being turned back. 
Italy complained that Switzerland’s actions were causing hundreds of migrants to become stranded in the Italian city of Como, with makeshift camps springing up around the train station. 
At the time the president of an Italian refugee organization said Switzerland had suspended an agreement with Italy allowing some migrants to cross into Italy. 
But a spokesman for the Swiss border agency told The Local that no such agreement existed and that Switzerland was simpling following the rules. 
Under Swiss law, any migrant who wishes to seek asylum in Switzerland must present themselves at the border and request asylum. They will then be registered with the relevant authorities and taken into the Swiss asylum system. 
However many migrants do not wish to claim asylum in Switzerland but simply pass through the country in order to reach another, such as Germany, and claim asylum there. 
In that case, the Swiss authorities do not consider them to have refugee status and therefore they are sent back to the country they arrived from.
However in a statement obtained by news agency ATS, Denise Graf, asylum coordinator of the Swiss section of Amnesty, said the methods used by Swiss border guards “prevented or dissuaded people from entering the country”.
Migrants, including minors, told Amnesty they had tried to lodge an asylum request on numerous occasions but did not succeed.
In refusing people asylum, “the border guards violate Swiss law,” said Amnesty. 
Border guards also failed to properly assess people’s circumstances before sending them back to Italy, particularly where children were concerned, while a lack of interpreters fuelled confusion at the border, according to the human rights body. 
No one interviewed by Amnesty in Como had received information from the Swiss authorities about the correct procedure to follow, it added.
Contacted by The Local, David Marquis, a spokesman for the Swiss Border Agency, said they “vehemently reject this criticism from Amnesty International” and that they had complied with all applicable laws. 
Those who seek asylum or protection in accordance with the law are passed to reception centres run by the Swiss migration office (SEM), it said. 
However migrants who merely want to pass through the country and who do not fulfil conditions of entry under Article 5 of the Foreigners Act are extradited to Italy under the terms of a readmission agreement dating from 2000. 
The agency is “in constant contact with various relief organizations” in order to “optimize” its processes, added Marquis.
Amnesty’s annual report also criticized Switzerland for other actions last year, including restrictions on the movements of asylum seekers in reception centres, and the use of disproportionate force by police in certain cantons during operations to expel migrants. 
Concerns remain over attempts to deport asylum seekers suffering from mental illness, said the report, mentioning the attempted deportation of a Kurd who had previously tried to commit suicide.
The report also picked up on the case of a 19-year-old dual national who intended to join Isis, saying the SEM wanted to strip him of his Swiss nationality even though he hadn’t yet been convicted of any crime. 
However Amnesty did have some good things to say, praising the “positive measures” that came out of the new law on asylum, passed in a referendum in June 2016.
It also noted a new law requiring cantons to ensure that young asylum seekers had access to education, and the lower house of Parliament’s vote in favour of giving gay people to right to adopt their partner’s children.
 

Bodies of 74 Migrants Wash Up on Libyan Coast

Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:16 Written by
By DECLAN WALSH

CAIRO — The bodies of 74 migrants were recovered from a beach near the town of Zawiya in western Libya, rescuers said on Tuesday, an ominous sign before the high season for Mediterranean crossings.

The bodies were believed to have come from a shipwrecked inflatable raft that was found on the same stretch of shore, said Mohammed Almosrti, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent. Some of the bodies were found inside the stricken raft.

The rubber boat left Libya for Italy on Saturday and appears to have been left drifting without an engine for several days, said Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Rome.

“It’s really strange that smugglers would take off the engine,” he said. “They are becoming increasingly cruel.”

Red Crescent workers spent seven hours collecting the bodies on Monday afternoon, and the organization posted photographs of dozens of black-and-white body bags lined up on a beach. Three of the dead were said to be women. Given the capacity of the boat, which could hold up to 120 people, the death toll is expected to rise, Mr. Almosrti said.

Source=https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/02/21/world/middleeast/migrants-libya-beach.html?smid=fb-share&referer=http://m.facebook.com

AFP

File photo of migrants and refugees in rubber boats off the coast of Libya: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The two rescue operations came as the bodies of 74 migrants who drowned trying to reach Europe washed up on a beach west of the Libyan capital, the Red Crescent said on Tuesday.

The Italian coast guard said it mounted operations to rescue two drifting vessels, a large boat and a rubber raft.

In the absence of an army or a regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coast guards but are often accused themselves of complicity or even involvement in the people-smuggling business.

The number of attempted crossings has surged this year, with most departures taking place from the west of Libya, from where Italy is just 300 kilometres (190 miles) away.

Europeans are considering measures aimed at blocking the arrival of thousands of migrants, alarming NGOs which fear that those stranded in Libya may suffer mistreatment.

Source=http://www.thelocal.it/20170222/italy-rescued-hundreds-of-people-off-the-libyan-coast-last-night

February 20, 2017

By Ross Kemp

I’ve seen the dangerous route to Europe through Libya, with thousands of people at the mercy of cruelty for profit. But our leaders prefer to keep them there

Ross Kemp with migrants back in port
‘We have a heightened responsibility towards Libya because of the role Britain played in bringing down the Gaddafi dictatorship.’ Photograph: Dave Williams/Sound Ltd

It’s a mass grave that we don’t need the United Nations to verify. Every day an average of 14 migrants, the vast majority from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, die crossing the Mediterranean.

Many more see their European dream turn into a nightmare long before they’re corralled on to flimsy rubber dinghies on Libya’s beaches. They’re the victims of a silent massacre in the Sahara desert – a journey more deadly than the crossing from the coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Come the spring, thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and violence will die in Libya, but I doubt you’ll hear much about it. Compassion fatigue has set in. The numbers have become too big to comprehend. It’s an old story; we feel numbed by the now familiar news images of men huddled together on boats. Maybe it’s because they’re African and have been written off as “undeserving economic migrants”. These are the people some of our political leaders have in mind when they talk of swarms, plagues and marauders. The understandable focus on Syrian refugees has taken the spotlight away from the more dangerous route to Europe through Libya.

Ross Kemp with migrants waiting to be picked up
‘What I saw there is nothing short of a modern-day slave trade.’ Photograph: Dave Williams/Sound Ltd

Or maybe it’s because, with three rival governments presiding over anarchy in Libya, and the real power lying in the hands of armed militias, getting inside the country to tell the story is just too difficult and dangerous. One thing is becoming clear – many people have come to see this tragic situation as though it were more a problem for us than for the migrants. We have stopped caring about them. As a documentary-maker, I believe it’s our job to make people care. That was the reason my team and I went to Libya – to try to shine a light on the under-reported plight of migrants away from the coastline and to tell the human stories of the men and women making the journey.

What I saw there is nothing short of a modern-day slave trade, with migrants treated as commodities. It’s as though nothing has changed in the 300 years since desert tribes used the very same routes to bring slaves to north Africa: Nigerian women told they are going to Italy to work as housemaids only to be trafficked into desert brothels with no idea when they might leave, young men cruelly beaten and held captive for months until their families pay a ransom, women forced to take contraception to stop themselves becoming pregnant at the hands of smugglers.

 

What makes their plight even sadder is that most have no idea what sort of country they’re entering. I saw this when I spoke with men and women at the very start of their journey – dazed and battered from the drive across the desert border with Niger but filled with a naive optimism.

Not only are they at the mercy of people smugglers but also the authorities themselves – in the main, armed militias with no one to hold them to account and few other sources of income apart from the migrant trade. In the desert town of Brak, I met a young man who told me he had no choice but to work for a smuggling ring ferrying migrants to a handover point on the back of a pickup.

While Libyans may rely on their own militias for protection, the migrants have nothing and no one to protect them. When they are intercepted by what authorities do exist in the country, they are taken to squalid, overcrowded warehouses – generously referred to as detention centres. In one centre for women in the coastal town of Surman I met Aisha, a young Nigerian. She was bleeding to death after giving birth to her baby girl on the toilet floor. The child died three days later. Since coming home we have tried but been unable to find out what has happened to Aisha. I fear the worst.

Even in the worst refugee camps in the world there is often food, medical facilities and aid workers to offer support. In the Libyan detention centres, migrants are locked up and left to rot. It’s a humanitarian disaster with barely any humanitarian organisations there to help. For tens of thousands of migrants in the country at the moment, they have no means of escape. Libya doesn’t want them, Europe doesn’t want them and even their own countries don’t want them.

We have a heightened responsibility towards Libya because of the role Britain played in bringing down Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship with no strategy for what was to come next. In the five and a half years since his death, lawlessness and anarchy have created the perfect conditions for people smuggling to thrive.

Last month, EU leaders under pressure to stop the tide of migrants travelling to Europe signed a deal with Libya. Far from helping people escape, this deal is aimed at keeping them there. It’s only one step away from forcibly returning them. Whatever your view on the migrants’ rights, forcing them back into the conditions we know they will experience in Libya is far from a humane solution. Conditions for migrants in the country need to drastically improve and until there is evidence of this, can we really consider the current deal an acceptable solution to such a horrific situation?

This article was co-authored by producer Jamie Welham. Ross Kemp: Libya’s Migrant Hell airs on Sky 1 on 21 February at 9pm

Source: The Guardian

Source=http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/migrant-slave-trade-libya-europe