Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the EU’s border agency, Frontex of being complicit in the abuse against migrants who are being forcibly returned to Libya.
“The use by the EU’s border agency, Frontex, of aerial surveillance to enable the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats, knowing that migrants and asylum seekers will face systematic and widespread abuse when forcibly returned to Libya, makes Frontex complicit in the abuse,” HRW and Border Forensics said in a multimedia research feature.
HRW documented the role of aerial surveillance by Frontex-chartered aircraft in detecting migrants’ boats in the central Mediterranean and their subsequent interception by Libyan forces.
The aircraft, operated by private companies, transmit video feeds and other information to the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw. This is where operational decisions are taken about when and whom to alert about migrants’ boats.
“While Frontex argues that aerial surveillance saves lives, the evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch and Border Forensics demonstrates it is in service of interceptions by Libyan forces, rather than rescue by the civilian rescue organizations or merchant ships that also operate in the area,” it noted.
Associate Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, Judith Sunderland said “Frontex is complicit in the abuse by alerting Libyan authorities about boats carrying migrants, knowing those migrants will be returned to atrocious treatment, and despite having other options.”
“Frontex’s rhetoric around saving lives remains tragically empty as long as the border agency doesn’t use the technology and information at its disposal to ensure that people are rescued promptly and can disembark at safe ports,” she added.
On 29 November, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC). It argued European responsibility for crimes against humanity committed against migrants and refugees in Libya.
The HRW report added noted that Frontex’s lack of transparency makes it difficult to verify facts, and impedes accountability.
It called on Frontex to “put in place effective measures to fulfil its obligation to assess whether its activities, including aerial surveillance, violate fundamental rights. This should include being more transparent and accountable about its operations.”
It also urged the EU to “reorient its migration policy to enable safe and legal pathways and reset its activities in the central Mediterranean and cooperation with Libyan authorities. This is to make sure migrants are not returned to places where they would face the risk of abuse, lack of access to international protection, and inhuman and degrading conditions of detention.”