AYS Daily Digest 13/01/20 — Weekend Exodus from Libya as Violence Escalates
Seawatch 3, with 119 People On Board, Denied Port of Safety///Greek Government Lost on Humanitarian Policy///French Strikes Hurting People on the Move
Feature: Violence in Libya Causes Mass Exodus, Protests Over the Murder of Two Eritreans
About 1,150 people tried to escape from Libya between January 9th and January 12th, according to a press release published on Monday by AlarmPhone. 503 people were able to reach Europe, either independently or with the help of NGOs or the Maltese Coast Guard. Unfortunately, about 700 people were pushed back to Libya by the Libyan coast guard.
This number only includes people who were able to reach AlarmPhone and ask for help. There was at least one case of a privatized pushback that ended in the Libyan Coastguard killing one person who resisted return to Libya. The Mediterranean is vast and dangerous, there could be other cases of people risking it all to reach Europe that we do not know about.
Cases of Libyans, as well as people from other countries who are being detained in Libya, fleeing to Europe will likely increase because violence has escalated even further in the past few days.
Peace talks are currently happening in Moscow, but the prospects for achiveing real peace are slim since the last truce, declared on Sunday, only lasted a few hours. Germany has already announced it will hold another summit on the 19th to continue peace talks. Even if a deal is reached, it is not likely that any of the governments involved will think about the safety of people on the move. The EU still has agreements with the Libyan ‘coast guard’ thereby intently supporting pushbacks to Libya during an active civil war and, even as Western aid workers are evacuated and Tripoli is shelled.
The international community has long ignored the needs of people detained in Libya, which ended in tragedy yet again when two Eritreans were killed over the weekend. In a press release, the UNHCR of course said that it was “deeply saddened” and that circumstances around the killings were “unclear.”
However, people who knew the two men place the blame at the UNHCR’s door. Although it is not confirmed, the two were allegedly searching for food in the city of Tripoli when they were shot by Libyans trying to rob them. The UNHCR explained that the two men were living outside of Gathering & Detention Facilities because they accepted an “urban package of assistance,” or financial incentive to live in the city of Tripoli instead of in a GDF. Their friends deny this narrative and say that the men were forced to live in the city because of the UN’s deliberate starvation policy. Had the men been granted asylum in a timely manner, or given food and shelter in a humanely-run camp, they likely would still be alive today.
Their friends and acquaintances, former Abu Salim detainees as well, organized a vigil to remember their lives and protest the international indifference that killed them. Video of the protest can be found here.
People rescued from the Mediterranean this weekend remain on board the Seawatch 3 in yet another case of governments refusing to accept people in distress, even though they are required to by international law. A former volunteer, Brendan Woodhouse, sums up the situation succinctly.
Practical solutions are needed before political solutions. Europe, open your doors for you’re becoming a monster. A malevolent creature who willingly allows children to drown in your seas, and turns its back to those that are rescued.
Greek Government At A Loss Over Resettlement Policy (But What Else Is New?)
The Greek government presented a plan to allegedly improve the humanitarian situation for people detained in Greece and release the burden on the Aegean Islands. New centers on the mainland that can hold up to 15,000 people are being built. The government set an ambitious timeline of transferring the first 10,000 people to the mainland by the end of February.
This plan did not make people living in the camps or Aegean leaders happy. Local authorities on the islands are strongly opposed to the other part of the plan, which calls for new centers with increased security to be built on the islands. Regional authorities want more funding and services such as administrative and health support, as well as commitment from mainland cities to contribute to hosting. Building more detention centers, where people will most likely continue to live in inhumane conditions, and securitizing people on the move will not solve the problem.
There is little confidence in the Greek government’s ability to follow up on its promises. The often-cited Greece-Turkey agreement on migration has stalled and last year only 195 people were returned to Turkey, even though the government had promised that thousands would be forced out of Greece. Of course, the fact that people were not forced back to an unsafe country is a good thing. However, this does not bode well for the Greek government’s ability to keep even the simplest of its promises, let alone coordinate an extensive humanitarian response.
The situation shows no sign of improvement any time soon. At least 12 people died on Saturday, and heavy storms are coming. There is a weather warning issued for January 15th to January 17th: heavy rain and thunderstorms will hit the Cyclades, Crete, and the Dodecanese especially hard.
Over 100,000 people are expected to come to Greece in 2020. Can Greece (and the EU) get its act together, or will more people have to suffer needlessly due to the inhumane asylum system?
German Cities Ask for More People to Be Resettled
While the rest of Europe ignores the people trying to reach safety on its shores or demonizes them, a group of German municipalities and cities are demanding they be allowed to help. They petitioned Angela Merkel to let them immediately begin resettling people that were rescued from the Mediterranean.
Mike Schubert, the mayor of Potsdam and one of the leaders involved, was uncompromising in his position.
We would be prepared to take in more people if allowed…We are currently experiencing a policy of wait and see, but that’s the opposite of acting.
Although an international group of cities agreed to a resettlement plan in September, it has been bogged down by bureaucracy. The German cities are asking to trigger a special section of the national Residence Act that allows for humanitarian residence permits to be given out immediately. There is no concrete response from the Interior Ministry yet, but the mayors say they will continue to put pressure on the government to act.
As Merkel slows down on accepting people seeking asylum because of political pressure from the far right, and as the EU leaves people to drown on its doorstep, it’s heartening to see some politicians refuse to give up on their principles.
Nationwide Strikes Hurting Refugees, Especially in Paris
Historic strikes in France have all but paralyzed Paris’ public transportation, especially the metro lines. Unfortunately, this has hurt the most vulnerable people the most. Volunteer organizations are unable to deliver assistance or help people access important appointments. This information comes from Danica Jurisic:
The strikes in Paris have been going on for over a month now. It has made it quite difficult to deliver all the necessities on the camp. But we are still doing distributions, even when we have no other options but to use what is left of public transportation. The streets are saturated with cars, and time to reach any destination has doubled, if not tripled. There is no easy way to move around.
Refugees are facing another challenge created by the lack of transportation: how to get to their appointments that are crucial steps in claiming asylum, getting emergency housing or health insurance. Many of them walk for hours to get to their appointments, and even then that is not a guarantee that they will get to their much needed meeting — lack of transportation often leaves many institutions locked because of the staffs inability to reach their working place.
We have so many requests for help coming from vulnerable women with children, pregnant women as well. In the rising chaos they can’t get any help, not even information where to go and how to ask for help.
Camps haven’t changed much. There is still enormous need for supply and support. But last few days or not so cold weather have brought a bit of relief.
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More Information on Denmark’s Return of Syrian Refugees
As we have reported before, Denmark has been denying residence permit extensions to Syrians, especially those from Damascus, with the claim that fighting in the capital was over. A new article published by refugees.dk gives more information about what led to this decision as well as the consequences of return.
The denials began after the Danish Immigration Service and Danish Refugee Council published a report in February 2019 detailing that regions under government control had improved security. The Immigration Service then began refusing to extend residence permits for those who have 7(3) status, which means they were given on asylum because of the general security situation, not due to individual claims of persecution. Although the appeals board overturned the decision in many cases, that was due to individual factors and it approved of deporting people back to “safer” Syria. This has created an environment of fear and uncertainty for many Syrians living in Denmark, who do not know if they will be denied residence or not (They cannot be formally deported because there is no return agreement, but they are held in deportation camps instead).
The 7(3) visas are usually given to women and children, who are most vulnerable to violence during war. Now, they are the first to be sent back.
The decision to refuse residency is contradicted by the government’s own report. Although the general security situation has improved, the Assad regime has only gotten stronger and is increasing surveillance and suppression. About 10–15% of returnees so far were arrested upon their return to Syria. The regime is what many Syrians were fleeing in the first place, and now they are forced to return to it.
The Danish government is increasing its notoriety for its hostile environment towards refugees(and any other people who are not ethnically Danish). In the past, they’ve forcibly returned Kosovars, Iraqis, and Somalis to war-torn countries and recently, their detention centers were condemned by the Council of Europe for being inhumane.
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