Press Release: Addressing criminalisation of refugees and impunity of human trafficking

Press release

Addressing criminalisation of refugees and impunity of human trafficking

Brussels, 28 June 2018

As EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss migration, experts denounced current EU migration policy as ineffective in tackling human trafficking and undermining migrant and refugee rights. A public hearing took place in the European Parliament today on the impact of EU external action in the Horn of Africa and addressing the criminalisation of refugees and impunity of human trafficking.

The event was hosted by the GUE/NGL group of Parliamentarians. The speakers emphasised the importance of protection in the region, addressing human trafficking at the highest level and to the source. The experts denounced the cooperation on migration of the EU with governments who are involved in human trafficking. The meeting took place as the European Council met on migration in Brussels.

The meeting was opened by Member of the European Parliament from the GUE/NGL group, Marie-Christine Vergiat. Among others, she is member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and has worked on human rights and migration issues for many years. “The situation in the Horn of Africa is particularly dramatic.” Ms. Vergiat stated. “The Khartoum process has worsened the situation of migrants in that area of the world and this is particularly true in Sudan and Eritrea.”

Speaker Makeda Saba warned of the consequences of current cooperation programmes with regimes in the Horn of Africa, including those accused of crimes against humanity, such as Eritrea. Currently, there are three international NGOs working in Eritrea, VITA, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Finn Church Aid (FCA). According to Saba, these organisations do harm by collaborating with the Eritrean regime, accused of committing crimes against humanity, including slave labour. According to Saba, these NGOs are dependent upon the favour of operating in the country by the highest level of the regime: “These NGOs operate without legal basis or rule of law. They are not able to be independent and impartial. They strengthen the oppressive institutions of the government, including the militarised education system. They cannot operate without using and legitimising forced labour. They are not helping the people of Eritrea”

Sara Prestianni from ARCI Immigrazione spoke about the situation in Sudan and the Khartoum process, stating: “Omar al-Bashir has everything to gain from cooperation with the EU so he can brush up on his image. He is taking ownership of this collaboration to once again play a central role in the international arena. […] The Rapid Support Forces operate to now at the border in Eastern Sudan. Who knows what crimes are being committed?”

Christian Jakob, journalist at the German Tagezeitung, has extensively investigated the effect of the externalisation of Europe’s borders in Africa: “In countries like Eritrea and Sudan, it is very easy for the EU to get what they want because there is no one from civil society who can question it.”

Meron Estefanos, Eritrean-Swedish journalist, covered the situation of human trafficking in Libya, victimising many through human rights abuses, torture and extortion: “Libyan officials are extorting money from people who are intercepted on the sea and sent back. […] Even from within the legal detention, refugees are sold for labour and other illicit purposes.”

Prof. Mirjam van Reisen covered the overall effect of EU policies, communication strategies and the lack of protection for refugees in the region. The policies are irregularising even those that have already integrated or have a legitimate asylum claim. “The system is irregularising people that we know we previously integrated or are legitimate asylum seekers. […] This is against international law and it is immoral. But most of all, it does not work and cannot work.” Prof. van Reisen continued: “People who have already experienced so much cruelty are chased across the region. Highly traumatised people remain in a mode of fleeing. That really works to the benefit of the human trafficking networks – they thrive on fear.” She argues that human trafficking has to be addressed at the top level: “The big money of human trafficking is made at the top. The top traffickers should be held responsible before anybody else.” She said. “We need to move to a policy where we 1) respect international law, 2) use our resources to create places of protection and care and 3) where we persecute those responsible for human trafficking at the top of the networks.”

Three documentary excerpts showed at the public hearing gave striking images of the tragedy. The documentary ‘It will be chaos’ showed up close the tragedy for Eritrean refugees at Lampadusa, 2013. Such tragedies still occur frequently in the Mediterranean Sea. The ARTE documentary ‘Türsteher Europas’ covered the situation in the Horn of Africa, where EU cooperation is contributing to unseen deaths in the desert. The final excerpt of the Swedish SVT documentary ‘Hunt for the General’ shows how refugees become victims of action against human trafficking, while the top people continue to be involved with impunity.