Thursday, June 23, 2011

African Refugees in Libya - Whose responsibility? Part II

New regime in Libya Selling out African Refugees: So much for democracy, when the new regime of ‘rebels’  in Libya is selling out to Europeans at the expense of African immigrants.

Now that they are gaining momentum and soliciting attention and validation from the international community, the Libyan rebels are playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable African refugees.  

It seems that the entire world is now hailing Khadafy as the evil leader who oppressed his people for decades on end.  It is a tune that all sing in unity but was not the case until recently.

In 2008, a New York Times article read “Italy to Pay Libya$5 billion” as reparations for the colonial occupation.  The real deal in this here was not the “compensation for its 30-year occupation of the country” as it was made out to seem but the agreement that “Italy wants Libya to crack down on the thousands of illegal migrants smuggled across the Mediterranean to Italian shores.”

Shortly after that, Libya put the ‘crack down’ into full operation in open violation of international conventions of the protection of the rights of refugees.  A Human Rights Watch report on this in 2009 states “Italy intercepts African boat migrants and asylumseekers, fails to screen them for refugee status or other vulnerabilities, andforcibly returns them to Libya, where many are detained in inhuman and degradingconditions and abused.”  The full report is available from HRW here

The issue that always arises with refugees, IDPs in Africa and worldwide is whose responsibility is it to protect them.  There’s a prevailing assumption that a sovereign government is responsible for its citizens safety and protection of rights.  In many African countries, it is the government and policies that the populace runs away from in the first place.  In which case the refugees that flee to a neighboring country, is it the new host country or UNHCR that is primarily responsible? 

Recently, I joined a relatively new group, the InternationalCommission on Eritrean Refugees, established to focus solely on the global conditions of Eritreans in flight.  I considered myself informed about matters of African refugees worldwide but found myself shocked by the new reports I was reading.  One such report concerns Eritreans in the Sinai region of Egypt who are held captive by the smugglers awaiting payment from family members in Europe and the U.S. 

The questions asked by ICER and by the many organizations working with refugees is who is responsible for the protection of refugees and where do the appeals go when there are violations. The government of Egypt is turning a deaf ear to the demands made by ICER to intervene and protect the rights of Eritrean refugees who are kidnapped, raped and killed outright with total impunity.    Refugee rights’ organizations have written countless messages pleading for protection from UNHCR – it is the one agency that all agree should be responsible and it is an agency that has more than it is able to accomplish.

As in the case of the new government in Libya, the interest of the nation state is seen counter to that of refugee protection.  What makes this ironic is that the new government in the process of formation in Libya claims that they will be different than Kaddafi, they will be more democratic and protect the civil and human rights of all.  They have a strange way of showing it when they have compromised themselves and their stance by agreeing to abide by the treaties Khadafy signed with Italy. Libyan rebel leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has previously said that a post-Gaddafi Libyan Government would respect “all agreements with Italy by the [Gaddafi] regime, including those involving combating illegal migration and oil contracts with Eni.”  This will mean continuing on the enforcement policies of mass detention and incarceration of many sub Saharan Africans that are in the borders of Libya.  

What a way to commemorate this June 20th as International Refugee Day,