Immigration:'More barriers in Europe, more torture in Libya'

Key sign operation Mos Maiorum, immigrants' rights group says

17 October, 20:24

    Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa rest after being rescued by the Libyan coastguard when  their boat sank on October 2, 2014 Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa rest after being rescued by the Libyan coastguard when their boat sank on October 2, 2014

    (ANSAmed) - ROME - The higher the barriers set up by Europe to halt immigration, the more abuse refugees trapped in Libya will suffer, the blog of the Habeshia agency for cooperation and development of migrants' rights activist Father Mussie Zerai denounced on Friday.

    The most obvious sign of Europe cracking down on immigration this fall is European operation Mos Maiorum, according to the agency founded in 2006 by the Eritrean priest who has been working for years to promote the rights of migrants and refugees exploited by human trafficking rings. The two-week-long sweeping police operation across Europe deploys 18,000 security officers to identify and control illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

    The operation, which kicked off on October 13, is officially aimed at cracking down on human smuggling rings yet targets their victims, thousands of people forced to flee war and famine, according to the agency that monitors human rights violations of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Yemen, Israel and Europe.

    Immigrants are being sent back to Italy - France reportedly sent 3,000 back to the country over the past few months, along with Switzerland and Austria, among others.

    Yet as European Union countries are closing their borders and repatriating immigrants, governments are ''outsourcing'' surveillance operations against illegal migrants, the agency said. It cited as an example Italy's donation to Tunisia of two new offshore patrol vessels to check on its coasts - reportedly a sign that Rome could vie to give Tunisia the same role previously entrusted to Libya as ''policeman of the Mediterranean'' under a migration agreement signed in 2011.

    A reported 3,500 migrants have died since the beginning of this year as they were attempting to make the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean.

    And as Italy's Interior Minsiter Angelino Alfano was stressing the need to protect borders earlier this month, he confirmed the end of Italy's sweeping surveillance-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum and the beginning of Triton, the Italian chapter of European operation Frontex Plus, which the agency fears will not be as effective in saving human lives as it will not stretch till Libya's territorial waters.

    Meanwhile cases of abuse and torture against immigrants in Libya are growing, according to the NGO.

    The group cited in particular the case of ''the Abu Wissa detention center managed by the interior ministry near Zawya'', on the west coast. Up to ''200 migrants are held in just one room at the center, which was set up in 2009 and holds approximately 1,200 migrants, mainly Eritreans and Ethiopians'', the agency said. Many were reportedly rejected from the Tunisian border, despite their UNHCR refugee card.

    The NGO also cited a prison in Misrata, set up in 2009 in a former school where it said some 400 migrants, all Eritreans, were detained with a number of men allegedly taken away to fight alongside militants.

    ''We are facing an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe'', said Zerai. ''The only way to try to resolve it is to open embassies in Africa for asylum claims, establish access corridors legal issue visas for humanitarian reasons, family reunification, political asylum'', he added, calling on Europe to spend on development policies in countries of emigration rather than to crack down on immigration. (ANSAmed).

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