The European Union, Egypt and Libya. Curbing Irregular Migration at the Expense of Human Rights

Term Paper, 2019

14 Pages


"Of bodies and shores
And salted tears in the salty sea
And memorials in dinghies
And memories in homes
Blasted, bombed and ransacked
a deficit of humanity [.]

My brother is gone
My mother is gone
My memories are gone
And the sea is big
Bigger than me
And the sea is blue
Bluer than me
And the people we paid
Who promised rubber in place of dignity
Are sitting beyond me
They want for nothing
As we get washed ashore
We have been gobbled
Then spat out
Sandy and exotic
Sea-side towns
For sea-horses
And refugees

And you share our images
And you tweet our stories
In 140 characters
With no protagonists
And your leaders shrug as they pass us by
And we take trains to solve the mystery
To Germany!
Or Hungary!
Or another colonial memory
Our neighbours have forgotten us
Their oil a film
On the seas we swim

But the sea is big
And I am small
And the sea is blue And I am small
And Europe is green."
Zeina Agha - A Poet

Conflict, poverty and climate change are amongst some of the drivers behind recent mass migration. In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that over 40,000 people have had to flee their house on a daily basis.1 The repressive political climate and the lack of economic opportunities in the Middle East and Africa have led to a massive migration flow into Europe that was exacerbated by the Syrian crisis.2 Although the majority of fleeing Syrian refugees reside in neighboring developing countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Libya, these countries are usually just transit countries through which migrants attempt to irregularly cross to Europe to start a new life.3 In 2015 and 2016, over 1 million migrant had crossed to Europe through the Mediterranean by boat.4 This surge in boat migration and the influx of migrants reaching the borders of Greece, Italy and Spain through different Mediterranean routes prompted the activation of restrictive policies designed to limit arrivals to European borders.5 By funding the Libyan and Egyptian governments to intercept migrants attempting to cross to Europe, the European Union (EU) is indirectly perpetrating human rights abuses.6

Libya's strategic position in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea has made it an important link in the migratory route between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.7 Migrants from Syria, Sudan, Chad and Niger head to Libya through bordering Egypt in an attempt to do the crossing.8 In 2016 alone, over 180,000 migrants crossed to Europe through the Central Mediterranean route (CMR) which connects Libya to Italy.9 Labelled as one of the deadliest migration routes, hundreds have died while attempting to do the crossing because of weather conditions and low-quality boats used by smugglers. In 2017, it was estimated that for every 30 people who successfully arrived in Italy, one person died.10

Europe's Migration Management

Under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the legal regime managing migration within Europe, migrants arriving through territorial waters have a right to apply for asylum and cannot be returned back to where they persecuted11. Although EU member states apply their own domestic asylum laws, legislation must be in line with EU standards which give migrants the right to apply for asylum, right to liberty and security, freedom from torture or inhuman treatment and right to fair trials.12 With increasing pressure on Italy and Greece to receive migrants arriving by boat and with asylum applications soaring to 1.3 million in 2015 alone, Europe sought to outsource the responsibility for migration control to countries like Libya and Egypt.13 Does that sound familiar? Pushing migrants back to Mexico is also a strategy used by the current Trump Administration in order to avoid the legal obligations created when migrants are within U.S. borders.

Libya: Lack of political stability and increasing human rights violations

Libya's unstable political climate post the Arab Spring has left a political vacuum in which 3 governments, including the Government of National Accord (GNA), maintain control over different areas of the country.14 The lack of security, ongoing violence and the humanitarian crisis place Libya as an unfavorable location for citizens and non-citizens alike. The EU, and specifically Italy, has been funding the government to intercept migrants at sea and prevent them from reaching European shores.15 Over 250 million Euros have been allocated to Libya for migration programs.16 Specifically, the Italian government has been providing capacity building trainings to the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) in order to 'effectively' manage the Libyan border.17 Despite claims that such delegation would strain the smugglers, prevent dangerous boat trips and protect the lives of migrants, these policies have proven to have a counterintuitive effect on the human rights of migrants resulting in more abuses occurring outside of EU shores yet sponsored by EU aid.18 Although the number of arrivals to Europe has decreased significantly in 201819, the number of deaths at the Mediterranean has increased with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimating one death for every 18 arrivals.20

Libya: Immigration Detention and Collusion in Human Trafficking and Slave Trade

The Libyan authorities have arbitrarily arrested, tortured and detained migrants attempting to cross to Europe.21 This violation of the principle of non-refoulement illegally returns migrants to where they were persecuted. Although the United Nations mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has indicated that the LCG 'rescued' around 29,000 migrants at sea, the LCG estimated the number to be around 15,000.22 An increasing number of 'rescue' operations by the LCG unfortunately has had an adverse effect whereby migrants are shot at and taken back to detention centers in Libya notorious for lack of respect for human rights.23

Amnesty International has documented abusive detention practices by the LCG and the Libyan General Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) which are not only responsible for inhuman treatment, torture and physical abuse of migrants but have also been allegedly implicated in human trafficking and slave trade.24 Leading members from the LCG heading the Italian-Libyan refoulement industry have been placed under UN sanctions after being accused of intentionally smuggling migrants and then shooting firearms to sink the boats.25

Libya: Detention Conditions

The African Union has estimated that over half a million migrants are detained in inhumane conditions across different facilities in Libya.26 Detention facilities in Libya are known for their deplorable conditions, overcrowded spaces and sub-standard treatment for migrants.27 Lack of access to food, healthcare and even light has resulted in several protests breaking out with one man burning himself to death because he had lost hope of ever leaving Libya.28 Additionally, migrants are forced to pay ransoms to prison guards in order to be released.29

Despite the EU's increasing detention-oriented funding through UN agencies and non- governmental organizations (NGOs), access remains limited and services very scarce. Sexual violence and torture using electric shocks seemed to be prevalent across all detention centers.30 Due to lack of adequate spacing, migrants are usually forced to sleep, urinate and defecate in the same areas while pregnant women are regularly beaten without any consideration to their health.31 Migrant children are reportedly being held in the same conditions as adults while also experiencing the same emotional and physical abuse.32 Children's rights as set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Libya, are regularly violated with minors having little or no access to adequate food, healthcare, education and recreational facilities.33


1 UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017, (2017)

2 Patrick Kingsley, Arab Spring Prompts Biggest Migrant Wave Since Second World War: The Guardian, (2015)

3 Phillip Connor, Most Displaced Syrians are in the Middle East, and About a Million are in Europe: PEW Research Center, (2018)

4 UNHCR, Mediterranean Death Toll Soars, 2016 is Deadliest Year Yet, (2016)

5 Human Rights Watch, EU Policies Put Refugees At Risk: An Agenda to Restore Protection, (2016)

6 Edwards Baldwin, M. and D. Lutterbeck, Coping with the Libyan migration crisis: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, (2018). See also The Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Egypt: Military Tribunals, uman Rights Abuses, Abysmal Conditions, and EU Partner, (2018)

7 Amanda Sakuma, Damned for Trying: MSNBC, (2018)

8 UNHCR, Mixed Migration: Libya at the Crossroads: Mapping of Migration Routes from Africa to Europe and Drivers of Migration in Post-revolution Libya, (2013), p.63, p.102

9 Mixed Migration Hub, The central Mediterranean Route: The Deadliest Migration Route, (2018)

10 Ibid.

11 Magyar I Italiano, Understanding Migration and Asylum in the European Union: Open Society Foundations, (2018). The principle of non-refoulement is stipulated under Article 33 in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which states "No Contracting State shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

12 Theresa Papademetriou, Refugee Law and Policy: European Union: The Law Library of Congress, (2016)

13 European Parliament, EU Migrant Crisis: Facts and Figures, (2017)

14 ACAPS, Libya: Crisis Analysis, (2018)

15 Human Rights Watch, EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of migrants in Libya, (2019)

16 Ibid

17 Ibid

18 European Council Conclusions, (2018)

19 UNHCR Data Operational Portal, (2019), Less than 150,000 migrants arrived to Europe via land and sea.

20 Human Rights Watch, No Escape from ell, p.25

21 Human Rights Watch, No Escape from ell

22 Reuters, Libyan Coast Guard Says It as Intercepted 15,000 Migrants in 2018, (2018)

23 Human Rights Watch, EU Policies

24 Amnesty International, Libya's Dark Web of Collusion: Abuses Against Europe-Bound Refugees and Migrants, (2017)

25 Patrick Wintour, UN Accuses Libyan Linked to EU-funded Coastguard of People Trafficking: The Guardian, (2018)

26 Ibid.

27 Human Rights Watch, No Escape from ell

28 Sally Hayden, Inside Libyan Detention ' ell' Where Refugee Burned imself Alive, Al Jazeera, (2018)

29 Amnesty International, Libya's Dark Web of Collusion

30 Human Rights Watch, No Escape from ell, p.39-41

31 Ibid

32 Ibid, p.54-57

33 Ibid

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The European Union, Egypt and Libya. Curbing Irregular Migration at the Expense of Human Rights
Harvard University
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european, human, expense, migration, irregular, curbing, libya, egypt, union, rights
Quote paper
Nourhan Tomoum (Author), 2019, The European Union, Egypt and Libya. Curbing Irregular Migration at the Expense of Human Rights, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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