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Libya deal will let Eritreans stay

Italy helped broker agreement

07 July, 18:07
Libya deal will let Eritreans stay (ANSA) - Rome, July 7 - Libyan authorities have agreed a deal to allow a group of Eritreans in immigration detention, reportedly turned away from Italian shores last year, to remain in the North African country, sources said on Wednesday The 245 migrants and asylum seekers have been at the centre of a row in Italy over allegations they have been abused in Libyan custody and reports that Tripoli plans to send them back to Eritrea.

But sources at the Tripoli office of the International Organization for Migration said the Libyan government had worked out an arrangement that would allow the group to stay.

They said Libyan Public Security Minister Younis Al Obeidi had announced the Eritreans would be given a residence visa in exchange for work.

The accord will result in the Eritreans being released from the prison where they are currently being held and given "socially useful work in different municipalities of Libya," the sources quoted the minister as saying. Italian Foreign Undersecretary Stefania Craxi and Parliamentary Relations Minister Elio Vito later confirmed the reports, noting that Libya's junior foreign minister had met with Italy's ambassador to Libya to discuss the matter that morning. According to the Libyan newswire Jana, 140 members of the group have already signed a document agreeing to the deal. Reports of the situation facing the Eritreans first broke on Wednesday, when members of Libya's permanent Eritrean community sounded the alarm over the group's transfer from a migrant centre in a Libyan coastal city to a criminal prison in the desert.

According to a community spokesman, who said he had been in contact with the group, they were subjected to an 11-hour journey, without breaks or water, following which many were severely beaten. On Friday, the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) issued a statement confirming the claims and explaining the group had been transferred as "punishment" for attempting to escape from the migrant centre. It said the group included Eritreans intercepted by an Italian-Libyan sea patrol in 2009 and forcibly escorted back to Libya under Rome's so-called 'push-back' policy, the result of a bilateral accord between the two countries.

Calls for Rome to intervene in the affair have been mounting since last week and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg added his voice to the requests on Tuesday.

"Italy has a duty to safeguard respect for human rights and to avoid sending migrants, including asylum seekers, back to those countries where they risk being tortured or abused," said Hammarberg.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome had been working behind closed doors to protect the interests of the Eritreans and help find them work that would allow them to remain in the country.

"We worked in silence, without shouting it from the rooftops, sadly in the total and absolute absence of the European Union," he said.

"We asked for a compromise, a mediation, and the result came. We are satisfied".

Undersecretary Craxi reiterated the Italian government had "never stopped its efforts of trying to sensitize the Libyan authorities to human rights issues" but stressed that Rome had been no under obligation to get involved. She said there was "no proof" the Eritreans in question had ever been turned away from Italian shores. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni also insisted the Italian government had "no responsibility whatsoever" to the Eritreans. "It has not been demonstrated that these individuals were among a group of 850 migrants 'pushed back' from Italy to Libya," he said. Maroni said it was "incredible" that Italy alone was expected to "carry out a humanitarian mission in Libya for these Eritreans" on behalf of Europe, which has "shown no interest in the matter". Italy's push-back policy, in force since May 2009, has drawn widespread criticism as Libya has no system in place for processing asylum claims. Italy's own obligations under the convention prohibit it from sending asylum seekers to countries that do not recognize refugees but Rome maintains that non-governmental organizations operating in Libya are able to process asylum claims.

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