Rome/Brussels – With the European Council scheduled to meet again on Friday to discuss migration issues, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) condemns the terms of the bilateral agreement (memorandum of understanding) 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 need international protection. Repatriating these individuals or pushing them back on the sea to Libya would constitute a violation of the international obligation of non-refoulement.
MSF wishes to underscore the inconsistency of such an agreement and the double standard applied by the European countries involved in this war. It is unacceptable that a country that is bombing in the name of protecting civilians would simultaneously turn back the victims of that war.
"This agreement constitutes a death sentence for the populations who risk being trapped in this conflict again," said Christopher Stokes, MSF's general director in Belgium.
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 the persons who sought, unsuccessfully, to reach Italy before the conflict broke out.
As part of its activities, MSF is treating persons who have sought refuge in the center of Mineo (Sicily) and the Choucha camp (Tunisia). Testimonies reveal the cruelty, the degrading, inhuman treatment and the 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 into 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 asks the European Council to consider the dangers of this kind of agreement as part of 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.