Charities slam UK government for 'trapping' refugees in Mediterranean

Human rights groups slam UK government for 'trapping' refugees in Mediterranean
3 min read
24 August, 2017
UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson's pledged to assist Libya blocking migrants attempting to reach Europe, but the move has angered human rights groups.
Over 2,400 migrants have drowned while attempting the perilous sea crossing this year [AFP]

Human rights groups and aid agencies have slammed the UK government for pursuing a dangerous strategy to tackle migration, which they say will further endanger the lives of vulnerable refugees by blocking their entry into Europe.

The criticism follows UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson's visit to Libya, where he affirmed the the government's commitment to helping Tripoli block migrant crossings and linked this committment to the battle against terrorism.

"Libya is the front line for many challenges which, left unchecked, can pose problems for us in the UK - particularly illegal migration and the threat from terrorism," Johnson said in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

"That's why it is so important that we work with the Libyan government and our partners to help bring stability to Libya - stopping it from becoming a fertile ground for terrorists, gun runners and people traffickers in close proximity to Europe," he added.

After meetings with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, the foreign secretary announced new funding, including $3.8 million for improvised explosive device clearing operations in Sirte, $1.28 million for de-mining training in Libya and a further $1.28 million for rebuilding key infrastructure.

At present, British navy units are also training Libyan coastguard units that are apprehending migrant boats undertaking the perilous journey from Africa to Europe.

Aid agencies working with refugees, however, accuse the Libyan coastguard of killing, shooting at and abusing migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean.

"What Boris Johnson notably fails to mention is the multiple occasions - as recent as last week - on which the UK-trained Libyan coastguard has threatened - or even fired upon - NGO search and rescue vessels operating in international waters," said Andre Heller-Perache, head of UK programmes at Medcins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).

"This shows that the British government is happy to sweep the appalling human cost of its deterrence policies on migration under the carpet - anything to make this someone else's problem," he added.

Heller-Perache added that the UK was complicit in "helping to trap thousands of people in appalling conditions".

UK-based charity Oxfam also weighed in on Johnson's comments, with the group's head of humanitarian campaigns, Fionna Smyth, describing the foreign secretary's pledge as "disturbing".

"Aid for people travelling through Libya is welcome, but Britain should be helping them to find safety, not trapping them in a country where they face violence and abuse," Smyth said.

So far this year, over 2,400 men, women and children have drowned while attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing on illegal trafficking boats.

Charities working to rescue migrants in the area have reported horrific details about abuse taking place both in Libya and at sea, where migrants are being sold into slavery, detained in squalid detention centres and sexually abused.

The number of refugees attempting the journey via the Mediterranean increased dramatically folloing the fall of Libya's former dictator Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, making European governments focus anti-migration efforts around the North African country.