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Horror faced by African migrants – UN Report

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By Prudence Arobani

Migrants and refugees are being subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the moment they enter Libya and throughout their stay in that country, a UN report has stated.

The report, released by the United Nations Political Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), also showed the horrors of attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The findings were based on 1,300 first-hand accounts gathered by UN human rights staff in Libya itself as well as from migrants who had returned to Nigeria.

It also featured accounts of Nigerians who managed to reach Italy, tracing the entire journey of migrants and refugees from Libya’s southern border across the desert to the northern coast.

“There is a local and international failure to handle this hidden human calamity that continues to take place in Libya,” said Ghassan Salamé, head of UNSMIL.

From unlawful killings, arbitrary detention and torture, to gang rape, slavery, and human trafficking, the report covers a 20-month period up to August 2018.

It detailed a terrible litany of violations and abuses committed by a range of state officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees.

The climate of lawlessness in Libya provides fertile ground for illicit activities, leaving migrants and refugees “at the mercy of countless predators who view them as commodities to be exploited and extorted,” the report said.

It noted that “the overwhelming majority of women and older teenage girls” report having been “gang raped by smugglers or traffickers.”

Many people were sold from one criminal group to another and held in unofficial and illegal centres run directly by armed groups or criminal gangs.

The report said: “Countless migrants and refugees lost their lives during captivity by smugglers after being shot, tortured to death or simply left to die from starvation or medical neglect.

“Across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert.’’

Those who managed to survive the abuse and exploitation, and attempted the perilous Mediterranean crossing, were increasingly being intercepted or “rescued” by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Since early 2017, the approximately 29,000 migrants returned to Libya by the Coast Guard were placed in detention centres where thousands remained indefinitely and arbitrarily without due process or access to lawyers or consular services.

UN staff visiting 11 detention centres, where thousands of migrants and refugees were being held, documented torture, ill-treatment, forced labour and rape by the guards.

Migrants held in the centres were systematically subjected to starvation and severe beatings, burned with hot metal objects, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment with the aim of extorting money from their families through a complex system of money transfers.

The detention centres were characterised by severe overcrowding, lack of ventilation and lighting and insufficient washing facilities and latrines.

In addition to the abuses and violence committed against the people held there, many of them suffered from malnutrition, skin infections, acute diarrhoea, respiratory-tract infections and other ailments as well as inadequate medical treatment.

Children are held with adults in the same squalid conditions, the report found.

The report pointed to the apparent “complicity of some state actors, including local officials, members of armed groups formally integrated into state institutions  and representatives of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence in the smuggling or trafficking of migrants and refugees.”

The UN independent human rights expert on torture, Nils Melzer, estimated that given the risks of facing human rights abuses in the country, transfers and returns to Libya could be considered a violation of the international legal principle of “non-refoulement”.

Non-refoulement protects asylum seekers and migrants against returns to countries where they have reason to fear violence or persecution.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, while reacting to the condition faced by migrants and refugees in Libya, said: “The situation is utterly dreadful”.

“Tackling the rampant impunity would not only end the suffering of tens of thousands of migrant and refugee women, men and children seeking a better life, but also undercut the parallel illicit economy built on the abuse of these people and help establish the rule of law and national institutions,” Bachelet said.

The report called on European States to reconsider the human costs of their policies and ensure that their cooperation and assistance to the Libyan authorities are respectful of human rights and in line with international human rights and refugee law.

This is to ensure that they do not, directly or indirectly result in men, women and children being trapped in abusive situations with little hope of protection and remedy, the report said.

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Africa

Buhari Appointed by ECOWAS to Champion COVID-19 Response

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President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has been appointed the mantle of the COVID-19 response leadership by presidents under the Economic Community of West African States.

A statement by Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in Abuja, said the appointment took place on Thursday, at the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19, which was held via teleconference under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

During the teleconference, Buhari was said to have called on fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into various opportunities that it presents for the betterment of lives in member states.

Buhari was quoted as saying, “In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities. Our region must therefore seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on the implementation of such critical policies, which, before now, will be difficult to accept.”

While calling on his colleagues to intensify collaboration to save the region from “this deadly pandemic through sharing our experiences and best practices,” Buhari outlined some measures taken by his regime in response to the pandemic.

They include reduction of interest rates on all applicable Central Bank of Nigeria interventions from nine per cent to five per cent and introduction of a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities. The inauguration of a presidential task force to coordinate national efforts to combat the spread of the virus and ensure efficiency and effectiveness in line with the Nigerian Action Plan on Health Security.

The President also stated that unprecedented economic uncertainties, including severe fiscal and foreign exchange constraints, amid a slowdown in global economic growth that most nations are grappling with, had made it imperative for “our sub-region to refocus on accelerating the implementation of our popular vision of ‘ECOWAS of the people’ by adopting progressive regional policies aimed at providing relief to our citizens.”

Buhari added, “At a time of global uncertainty such as this, caused by the devastating impact of the COVID-19, let me convey Nigeria’s solidarity with all the member states as we collectively battle to defeat the pandemic.

“I am greatly saddened by the loss of numerous lives and extend my heartfelt condolences to families of those who have lost loved ones throughout the region. I also wish infected victims speedy and full recovery.”

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Africa

COVID-19: AU on Nigeria’s Behalf Seeks Debt Relief

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The African Union, Nigeria office, has urged China, France, Japan and India to write off Nigeria’s debt or allow two-year abeyance on repayments.

It commended the International Monetary Fund for granting relief to 25 nations under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to tackle the novel coronavirus.

The AU agency’s Nigeria Representative, Oba Olasunkanmi, in a statement in Abuja on Thursday, explained that as major lenders, they should also grant a reprieve to the Federal Government to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

It said, “Certainly, this will further assist the benefiting countries to significantly cushion the impact of the dreaded disease on their economies. Nigeria, at this time, needs support to enable it to recover from the financial impact.”

The AU further  noted that it would be difficult for the nation to service the debts in the face of the economic realities imposed by COVID-19 “as the United Nations had projected that the world would need $1 trillion for continual existence.”

It noted, “Nigeria needs China’s support at this trying time, with the long and fruitful bilateral relationship between both countries which has led to Nigerian government owing China the debt of about $3.2 billion.

“We are faithful in payment of service charges. In 2019, Nigeria paid $138.8 million (N53.7billion) to EXIM Bank of China in settlement, the highest amount paid to any bilateral institution for the year.”

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Africa

COVID-19 May Claim 300,000 Africans — UNECA

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The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
has disclosed due to deductions, 300,000 Africans may lose their lives due to COVID-19.

UNECA Communications Section, the ECA said the scenario would also push close to 27 million people into extreme poverty.

The report, which was launched virtually on Friday and titled: “COVID-19: Protecting African Lives and Economies”, the ECA said Africa’s fragile health systems could see additional costs being imposed on them.

The UN agency explained that this is because of the growing crisis that has, to date, resulted in over 16,000 infected Africans and claimed over 800 lives at the time of the report’s launch.

Ms Vera Songwe, UN Executive Secretary, ECA, said that to protect and build toward the continent’s shared prosperity, 100 billion dollars is needed to urgently and immediately provide fiscal space to all countries.

She said this is to help address the immediate safety net needs of the populations

Songwe noted that Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of its urban population is concentrated in slums or informal dwellings, and only 34 per cent of African households have access to necessary handwashing facilities.

“The economic costs of the pandemic have been harsher than the direct impact of the COVID-19.

“Across the continent, all economies are suffering from the sudden shock to the economies.

“The physical distancing needed to manage the pandemic is suffocating and drowning economic activity,” she said.

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Africa

Insurgency Confrontation Leaves 4 Soldiers, 63 Unknown Gunmen Killed in Niger Republic

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The Nigerien Army lost four soldiers in the fight against insurgency but vanquished sixty-three armed men suspected to be affiliated with major terrorist cells in the Sahel region of Africa.

“After a fierce fight” on Thursday in the Tillaberi region near the border with Mali, the soldiers who had been on an anti-terrorist operation put the attackers “on the run” and recovered dozens of motorcycles and weapons, and the Nigerien Defence Ministry said in a statement read on public television.

The Tillaberi region is in close to the borders of both Mali and Burkina Faso.

Use of motorcycles has been banned there since January to curb attacks by jihadists who are active there.

According to an official report, 174 soldiers were killed in three attacks in the area in January and December. Two were claimed by the Islamic State group.

The entire Sahel has become blighted by jihadist violence — often interspersed by conflicts between communities — which left 4,000 dead in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in 2019, according to the United Nations.

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