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20 September 2011

Libya: Totally inadequate response by EU states to refugees stuck in limbo

European countries have shamefully failed to help thousands of mainly African refugees stranded near Libya’s borders, Amnesty International said today in a new briefing paper.

In Europe, now it is your turn to act, the organization strongly criticizes EU governments for failing to offer resettlement to the estimated 5000 refugees – who would face persecution or conflict if returned to their own countries – currently living in grim conditions on Libya’s Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

“We have witnessed an abysmal response to the plight of displaced refugees on Europe’s doorstep,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“This failure is particularly glaring given that some European countries, by participating in NATO operations in Libya, have been party to the very conflict that has been one of the main causes of the involuntary movement of people.”

“EU Home Affairs Ministers must urgently address the resettlement issue – they can start by putting it prominently on the agenda of the Justice & Home Affairs Council on 22 September.”

Approximately 1,000 people, including Eritreans, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Ivoiriens, Palestinians, Somalis and Sudanese, are stranded at Egypt's Saloum Border Post.

Most people at Saloum sleep in makeshift tents made of blankets and plastic sheets. Two large tents provide shelter for women and children.

Meanwhile in Choucha camp in Tunisia, around 3,800 refugees and asylum-seekers live in an isolated area of desert where conditions are harsh.

One man from Sudan told Amnesty International: “Humans need dignity and freedom. But there is no freedom in Sudan and no dignity here.”

The refugees in Tunisia and Egypt cannot not go back to their home countries because they would face a real risk of persecution or serious harm, either from deliberate targeting or indiscriminate violence due to ongoing conflicts.

Neither is returning to Libya – a country currently unable to offer adequate protection to refugees – an option.

Amnesty International has documented how when the conflict began in February, sub-Saharan Africans were targeted by anti-Gaddafi fighters who accused them of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.

When Benghazi and other eastern cities first fell under the control of the NTC, anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killings and other violent attacks against al-Gaddafi soldiers and loyalists and sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries.

Amnesty International believes sub-Saharan Africans in Libya remain at high risk of abuse and arbitrary arrest by anti-Gaddafi forces and last week issued a major report calling on the NTC to do more to protect them from reprisal attacks.

Australia, Canada and the USA have offered to resettle some of the refugees stranded at Libya’s borders.

But only eight European countries have offered to help, between them offering fewer than 700 slots.

Driven by desperation, more and more refugees are resorting to returning to Libya in order to try to board boats for Europe on a perilous sea journey which is believed to have claimed more than 1500 lives since the start of the conflict in Libya.

Amnesty International called on the international community, and in particular EU member states, to share responsibility for resettling refugees fleeing Libya.

The organization said that countries offering resettlement must provide places over and above their existing annual quotas to deal with this emergency, in order not to deplete much needed places from elsewhere.

"These people stranded on Libya's borders are between a rock and a hard place," said Nicholas Beger. "It is time for the EU to shoulder responsibility for this crisis."

Notes for editors:

  • Europe, Now It Is Your Turn To Act: Refugees Forced Out Of Libya Urgently Need Resettlement is based on visits by Amnesty International delegates to the Choucha refugee camp in Tunisia and the Saloum Border Post in Egypt in June and July.
  • Resettlement: The UNHCR defines resettlement as the selection and transfer of refugees from a state in which they have sought protection to a third state which has agreed to admit them – as refugees – with permanent residence status.
  • Spokespeople: Amnesty International spokespeople are available for interview on this topic from London (+44 20 7413 5566 or email: press@amnesty.org) and Brussels (contact Peter Clarke on +32 472 446 458).
AI Index: PRE01/465/2011
Region Middle East And North Africa
Country Libya
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