In Libya we are seeing the full horror of Britain’s brutal migration policy


07 July 2019

In the last week we have seen the full horror of Britain’s brutal migration policy. 53 migrants were killed on Tuesday when a Libyan detention centre was bombed. Despite repeated warnings, the Libyan government which is recognised and supported by Britain, imprisoned these migrants close to a military base, making them a clear potential target. And it gets darker still, with reports emerging of Libyan guards opening fire on migrants who attempted to escape from the prison after the bomb had exploded.

The British government funds and trains the Libyan coastguard to forcibly return people to these prisons, as well as funding provision within the detention centres themselves. So far in 2019, over 3,000 migrants have been forcibly returned to Libya. Conditions inside these centres have been described by a child detainee as “hell on earth”.

Thousands of migrants remain in danger of further bombings. But even if they’re lucky enough to escape death, they face conditions of severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lacking clean water or sanitation or proper healthcare. There are atrocious reports of violence by guards, including use of electric shocks, as well as reports of trafficking into forced labour and sexual exploitation. Only on Thursday we heard another 80 had died at sea trying to flee to safety in Europe.

Criminalising solidarity

Meanwhile, thanks to the collective policies of European governments as a whole, there are virtually no NGO rescue ships left at sea to help migrants trying to flee to safety in Europe, and those that are still at sea face increasingly tough legal sanctions. What’s more, the British government has been clear that these same policies will form the core of our approach to migration after Brexit.

Today, we’re demanding an immediate change of policy. We’re joining groups like Medicines Sans Frontiers in calling for the release of all migrants detained in Libya, and demanding the British government support a humanitarian evacuation and proper resettlement of migrants.

Of course migrants are fleeing many different situations – war and persecution, dispossession, poverty and climate change. We must build a better world where no one is forced to move. But as long as a brutal border regime exists, it is too easy for governments to look the other way. Radically changing the migration system is one vital element of building a fairer world.   

Changing minds

This seems like a difficult time to work on migration. But there is plenty of support for a radically different approach if we work together. This week German ship captain Carola Rackete was released from house arrest in Italy after she broke the Italian government’s anti-migrant blockade and saved the lives of 40 migrants. A crowdfunder for Rackete and her work has already raised €1million. 

Together, we can change minds. We can reverse the horrific policies that are demonising the victims of our desperately unequal global economy.

As a first step, we must demand the UK government stops supporting and funding this treatment of migrants in Libya. A petition set up on the UK government website calls for this - if we can get it to 10,000 signatures, the government will be forced to respond.

Yesterday Rackete told the Guardian, "I hope my gesture will lead to concrete solutions in Europe for migrants."

It's up to us to use this opportunity to help build up pressure.

Take action


Photo: FCO/Flickr

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