Between May 24 and May 27 around 400 migrants and refugees have been picked up by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya. Two of them drowned during the operation. An additional 90 migrants and refugees have been stopped by a commercial ship and have been returned to Libya as well. The pushback operations are funded and supported by the European Union (EU) and individual member states like Malta and Italy. While Libya has been an unsafe place from the start of the EU’s so called externalized border policy, COVID-19 brings even more risks as detention camps in Libya are high-risk areas for the spread of the virus and rescue operations on the Mediterranean Sea have been minimized. An additional element of danger is the intense civil war in Libya, which has turned into a geopolitical conflict and a proxy war between Russia and The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the one hand and Turkey on the other. The war takes its toll on the civilian population; on June 1 another 5 civilians were killed and 11 wounded in a rocket attack near Tripoli.
A Dutch Foundation of Eritrean refugees, Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, has filed a lawsuit in the Amsterdam court against the European Union (EU) for its role in financing a road building project in Eritrea that uses forced labor. The Foundation, together with their Dutch Lawyer Emiel Jurjens, demand the EU stops the 80 million euro support to Eritrea. While the European Commission acknowledges that the funded project entails labour from Eritrea’s indefinite and forced national service, in direct violation of EU’s fundamental principles and international law, it deflects blame by claiming that the EU is not paying directly for labor itself but rather for the equipment. Besides the use of forced labor, the EU has no direct oversight or proper monitoring scheme to safeguard the Eritrean national conscripts forced to work on the project or ability monitor how the money is spent. The EU has already pledged 80 million and is looking to spend an additional 120 million on subsequent phases. The lawsuit enters uncharted legal territory in a complex web of jurisdiction and accountability.
International organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) face a storm of disinformation and blame surrounding their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes xenophobic reactions from populations, but also political blame. The criticism is leading to obstacles for the organisations providing much-needed aid to vulnerable populations, particularly in areas of Africa, due to restricted funding and threats.