MSF Condemns Any Attempt To Send Boat People Back To Libya

MSF condemned an agreement between Italy and the Libyan National Transition Council that would repatriate immigrants fleeing the ongoing war in Libya. 

ROME/BRUSSELS, JUNE 23, 2011 – With the European Council scheduled to meet again on Friday to discuss migration issues, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today condemned the terms of a bilateral agreement signed on June 17 between Italy and the Libyan National Transition Council. The agreement is intended to provide mutual aid and cooperation in the struggle against illegal immigration, specifically by repatriating illegal immigrants.

MSF is shocked that a belligerent State involved in the Libyan conflict would take such measures while a war is still underway. Furthermore, the persons arriving by boat from Libya are fleeing violence and require international protection. Repatriating these individuals or pushing them back to Libya by sea would constitute a violation of the international obligation of non-refoulement, the protection of individuals from being returned to areas of conflict.

MSF wishes to underscore the inconsistency of such an agreement and the double standard applied by European countries involved in the Libya conflict. It is unacceptable that a country that is bombing in the name of protecting civilians would simultaneously turn back the victims of that war, MSF said.

"This agreement constitutes a death sentence for the populations who risk being trapped in this conflict again," said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director.

In 2009, MSF expressed its concern following the signing of the “Friendship Treaty” between Libya and Italy because it provided for forced repatriation of migrants. MSF can now see the terrible consequences of this kind of agreement for persons who unsuccessfully sought to reach Italy before the conflict began.

As part of its activities, MSF is treating persons who have sought refuge in Mineo, in Sicily, and in the Choucha camp in Tunisia. Testimonies reveal the cruel and degrading treatment and resulting trauma experienced by migrants sent back to Libyan detention centers.

“Near Lampedusa, the Italians caught us, tied a rope to our boat, and towed us back to Libya where we were thrown back in detention, tortured, and forced to call our families for ransom money," said a Somali man at the Choucha camp, who was turned back before the war began. "I escaped when the war started in Libya.”

MSF requests that the European Council consider the dangers of this kind of agreement during its discussions. MSF again reminds every State of its obligation to honor the fundamental rights of all persons under their jurisdiction, regardless of nationality. The European States must, at all times, guarantee the non-refoulement of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from territorial lands and waters and ensure that those persons receive decent treatment upon arrival, including access to an efficient and equitable asylum procedure.