The precarious situation that the 400 or so Eritrean migrants currently stranded in Libya has taken a number of convoluted turns since the mass forced movements we wrote about on 1 July. Having been threatened with mass forced deportation if they did not fill out bio-data forms provided by the Eritrean embassy, which they refused to do will put their families in Eritrea at risk and clear the way for their deportation back to Eritrea. Of the 140 detainees who have signed the forms, many claim they were either tricked or were pressured into doing so.
The removal of the 205 Eritrean detainees transferred to Sabha, and who eventually ended up in the al-Biraq detention centre, was part of the authorities attempts to pressure them into signing the bio-data forms. Sources indicate that 10 of the al-Biraq were taken out and beaten as an example to try and force the Eritreans to cooperate. Of those who remained in Misrata, it is claimed that a group including 31 men, 13 women and 7 children were beaten on 7 July when they again refused to fill in forms.
International condemnation followed with Green Party MEPs publicly condemning the conditions the refugees were being held in. The European Council on Refugees and Exile called upon Italy to return the 250 Eritreans they had previously expelled back to Libya and Human Rights Watch said that all victims of the Italian-Libyan 'push back' policy should be allowed to proceed to Italy and claim asylum.
Whilst international pressure was building, the Italian and Libyan governments were in talks trying to find a compromise position. The Italians claim that they had managed to broker a deal for the release of the Eritrean detainees to do "socially useful" work in Libya at the direction of Libyan authorities. This would involve the issue of temporary documentation allowing the Eritreans to stay in Libya for 3 months. However, after the permits run out they will be back in the same situation all other undocumented people in Libya are subject to, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and ultimately forced deportation.
So, on the evening on the 15th, the Sabha detainees were release onto the street with, as they claim "no food, water or documentation to allow free movement", despite promises of the temporary permits. The subsequently put out an international appeal for help. The other detained Eritreans across Libya were also released but it now appears that it was merely an attempt by the two governments to “lower the tension” and little has changed.
Given Italian intransigence on fulfilling its international obligations towards refugees, the total lack of any system for claiming asylum in Libya itself, the appalling state of Libyan prisons and the burning desire of the Eritrean government to get its hand on those who have fled the country, it appears inevitable that at some point there will be mass deportation of the Libyan Eritreans back to Samara, where they will face persecution, prison, forced labour and, for some, death.
Blogs: 1, 2, 3