European solidarity has remained in the embryonic stage
Vincent Cochetel, Special envoy of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees for the situation in the central Mediterranean
The 806 migrants and refugees who have started to disembark in Sicily in recent days come from 22 different countries. Statistically, among the survivors crossing the central Mediterranean, one third obtains the refugee status or another status allowing them to stay in Europe, the other two thirds will not be entitled to a stay in Europe.
The European Commission is trying to get active to mobilize European states to help Italy. So far, solidarity has remained embryonic. If the states do not cooperate, we will see, as in the past, the newly disembarked people continue their journey irregularly to other European countries. Some states would no doubt be prepared to do more if returns worked better, if countries of origin were ready to receive their nationals.
The answer is far from being only European. Tunisia, in recent times, has welcomed more than 1,700 people whose boats, which left Libya, have drifted in its waters. The transit countries in southern Libya – Sudan, Niger, Chad – are themselves faced with massive influxes of refugees fleeing crises and wars in Tigray (Ethiopia), Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso. , etc. In spite of everything, stabilizing responses would have to be found in these countries. Because all the choices are better than going to Libya. According to the testimonies we collect, there are even more deaths on land routes than on sea routes, which are very fatal. People are abandoned in the desert or die in the hangars of traffickers where some remain locked up for years.
In Libya, nothing is preventing desperate people from taking senseless risks to leave the country. The central power lets it go, or has no control over the authorities in the Zouara region, west of Tripoli, from where 95% of the boats leave. The release in April of the head of the coastguard for this region – sanctioned by the United Nations on suspicion of human trafficking and arrested in November 2020 – sent a very strong signal of impunity to traffickers.
In addition, for months, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees can no longer transfer refugees to Niger or Rwanda, and the International Organization for Migration can no longer evacuate African nationals who ask to return home, because the flights are suspended by the Libyan authorities, in a completely incomprehensible manner. We have even received threats to close our offices if we wanted to register people coming from countries in the grip of serious conflicts in the Sahel, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon, etc. The Libyan authorities only authorize the registration of refugees for nine nationalities.