The Malta Independent 20 June 2019, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: The Malta Declaration will be nothing to be proud of

Sunday, 19 November 2017, 10:27 Last update: about 3 years ago

Shocking footage aired this week by CNN showed a modern day slave market not too far from our shores in nearby virtually lawless Libya, where sub-Saharan men were auctioned off for slave labour to the highest bidders.

The men go for around USD400 each at a weekly slave market.

The scenes broadcast sent shivers down the spine of those with a conscience. It should make us Europeans ashamed of the deal our leaders struck on our behalf when they convened in Malta last February to address the mounting deaths at sea in the Mediterranean but which, in actual fact, was merely a façade hiding their real purpose – to reinforce Fortress Europe.

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EU leaders who convened in Malta last February to address the flow of migrants across the central Mediterranean, by and large paid mere lip service to the awful plight of African migrants trapped in limbo in what is currently a lawless Libya.

And in so doing, what they mainly accomplished was to further fortify what has become known in recent years as Fortress Europe. That is because the main result of the leaders’ discussions was to approve ways and means of stopping the flow of migrants out of Libya and into Europe, to legalise pushbacks of desperate migrants not only escaping the horrors of their homelands but also the horrors of Libya.

Those talks resulted in the Malta Declaration, a document that the government sought to place as a feather in its cap but which will, in due course shame the European Union and the declaration’s authors and promoters.

The human rights situation in Libya is truly catastrophic, with migrants heading for Europe bearing the brunt of the abuse. At the beginning of this month, United Nations monitors found thousands of hungry men, women and children locked up in packed hangars. Many had been

victim of torture, rape, forced labour, starvation and physical violence during their journeys and in Libyan detention centres.

Under pressure from anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, the European Union had wholeheartedly backed the Malta Declaration, which aims to fund and train Libya's coast guard patrols to prevent migrants from leaving aboard smugglers' boats bound for Europe.

And in so doing, we are all silent witnesses to modern day slavery, rape and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatised people from reaching Europe's shores, the UN’s human rights chief said this week.

He is right. The Malta Declaration is a stain on the European Union’s humanitarian credentials.

It comes, of course, under the guise of preventing deaths at sea which is obviously a worthy cause, but there is little doubt among many human rights organisations that the goal here is simply to stop the flow into Europe.

This has been and continues to be a shameful dereliction of the EU’s humanitarian duty to protect human beings, whether they are EU citizens or not.

Blocking people in Libya makes a mockery of the EU’s values of human dignity, rights and the rule of law.

With its Malta Declaration, the EU is doing all the dirty work itself, it is not perhaps engaging in pushbacks of migrants attempting to leave Libya. Instead, it is providing the training, equipment and support for the Libyan authorities to do the dirty work for it – to stop migrants from fleeing the horrors they face in Libya, or to catch them before they leave Libyan waters.

The EU has baulked at its humanitarian responsibility. While any action directed at saving lives is to be commended, by sealing the deal with Libya through which migrants trying to flee human rights violations are being pushed back to those same conditions – the principle of nonrefoulement will have been violated.

The EU seems to have accepted and legitimised the human suffering prevailing in Libya by accepting the pushing back of people to conditions where they suffer documented arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, unlawful killings, trafficking and enforced disappearance, labour exploitation and sexual violence.

The EU needs to place far more emphasis on ensuring safe reception capacities and conditions in Libya if the EU’s aim is to stop people from leaving the country for Europe in the first place. It is hoped, for the sake of those people trapped in Libya and for the EU’s own humanitarian credentials, that this will indeed be the case.

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