Skip to main content

Open Letter to Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on Libya

Migrants are Not the Enemy

Migrants on a wooden boat await rescue by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha, Libya on April 15, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

Dear Minister Kurz,

The statement you made during your one-day visit to Tripoli on May 1, that “migrants who are saved in the Mediterranean should not be guaranteed a ticket to Central Europe,” feeds misinformed and xenophobic narratives in Europe.

I have visited many migrant detention centers in Libya, most recently two facilities in western Libya in April, where authorities are holding detainees in abysmal, overcrowded conditions. These experiences have led me to conclude that those fleeing conflict, or wishing to seek a better life and opportunities elsewhere, will continue to try despite the risks, such as traveling through Libya or the many other places where doors are shut in their faces.

You have praised Australia’s policy of outsourcing responsibility for asylum seekers and proposed the European Union adopt the same model. But the human cost of Australia’s “offshore processing” has been enormous. Asylum seekers have been forcibly transferred and held indefinitely in countries where they’d never intended to seek asylum and that are incapable of integrating them. Australia’s processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea have caused severe harm to refugees and asylum seekers, including to their mental health, and the United Nations considers that post-traumatic stress disorder and depression “have reached epidemic proportions” in Nauru.

Now you propose Europe ignore its human rights values and obligations and do the same, by interdicting boat migrants who approach European territorial waters and transferring them to countries like Egypt and Tunisia, for processing. You said, “No one will be ready to pay a smuggler in order to end up in Egypt.” This risk would not deter desperate people from paying smugglers to try to reach Europe and possibly be exposed to abuses in other countries.

A policy solely focused on shutting people out fails because it offers no viable alternative.
Mr. Foreign Minister, rather than dreaming of establishing a Nauru in the Mediterranean, please come up with a viable solution for migration and asylum procedures in Europe, one that will reduce the number of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, which has reached already 938 in 2017. More opportunities for safe and legal migration to EU countries, including Austria, is a good place to start.

I would appreciate the possibility of discussing these matters with you in person.

Hanan Salah

Senior Libya Researcher
Middle East and North Africa
Human Rights Watch

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.