Switzerland denies complicity in Libya migrant abuse

African refugees and migrants, mostly from Sudan and Senegal, wait for help off the Libyan coast earlier this year. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Protecting the rights of refugees and migrants is a top priority, including in Libya, a Swiss government spokesperson has told in response to Amnesty International accusations that Bern is complicit in “horrific abuse of refugees and migrants” in Libyan detention centres. 

This content was published on December 13, 2017 - 11:50

In a report released on TuesdayExternal link, human rights organisation Amnesty International said European governments are actively supporting a “sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean”. 

The report is targeted mainly at Italy and the European Union, but the Swiss section of Amnesty International said in a separate statement that Switzerland is also actively cooperating with the Libyan authorities and has made CHF1 million ($1 million) available to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for training and equipping the Libyan Coast Guard.

“The Swiss authorities must ensure that technical and financial cooperation with the Libyan authorities does not contribute to violations of the human rights of migrants and refugees in that country,” said a statement from Amnesty International Switzerland. 

Swiss Justice Ministry spokesperson Emmanuelle Jaquet von Sury said Switzerland put protection of refugees and migrants at the top of a recent summit of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group which it hosted in Bern in November. That summit agreed in principle measures to improve conditionsExternal link in Libyan detention centres and find alternatives to them, she said. 

‘Systematic abuse’ 

Jaquet von Sury confirmed that since 2016 Bern has been supporting an IOM programme to strengthen the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard to the tune of CHF1 million. She said it involved equipment for sea rescue, training in emergency sea rescue and setting up standard operating procedures. 

“Respect for human rights and international standards are a focus of the project,” she told 

Jaquet von Sury said Switzerland also provided CHF1 million in 2015-2016 for a programme to repatriate stranded migrants from Libya on a voluntary basis. A total of 722 migrants in precarious conditions benefited from that programme, she said, and 102 got reintegration support. 

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain,” according to John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director. “Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres where they are subjected to systematic abuse.” 

Amnesty International Switzerland welcomed Bern’s decision last week to take in 80 particularly vulnerable refugees from detention centres in Libya as part of an emergency plan by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

“That is good, but at the same time the Swiss government is part of this effort which is keeping migrants trapped in Libya,” AI Switzerland spokeswoman Nadia Boehlen told  

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