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Executive Summary for April 4th

We review the latest developments on refugee issues, including the deaths of 160 asylum seekers off the Libyan coast, at least five deaths and several injuries as Libyan guards open fire on detainees and the unfolding of the E.U.– Turkey deal as Greece deports asylum seekers to Turkey.

Published on April 4, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

At Least 160 People Leaving the Libyan Coast Feared Dead

Around 160 people perished while leaving the town of Zawiya on the Libyan coast, a “new focal point” for departures from North Africa, according to the latest report by non-profit documentation organization Migrant Watch.

The Libyan coastguard attempted to save 170 people aboard two boats, about 12 miles (20km) off the coast of Zawiya, while aided by an Italian “tug boat,” according to the report.

Only 31 out of 140 people were saved from the second boat.

In a separate incident, the Libyan Coastguard saved a woman about 15 miles (24km) off the coast. She claimed to have been in the waters for three days, after a boat with 85 others sank.

There has been a significant spike in arrivals in the central Mediterranean in the month of March.

AFP reported that a European-led operation picked up 100 people stranded in rubber dinghies off the Libyan coast on March 29, while Cyprus brought another 24 to safety.

A majority of the asylum seekers were from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali and included children. They were taken to a reception centre in Sicily.

In earlier events, the Libyan coastguard on March 27 intercepted three boats carrying 600 migrants off the coast of Sabratha about 45 miles (70km) west of Tripoli.

The Italian interior ministry announced that almost 14,500 refugees have arrived in Italy from Libya since the start of this year, a 42.5 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to an AFP report from Rome. Meanwhile the Italian coastguard said on March 28 that it had rescued 1,482 migrants off the Libyan coast in two days.

Migrant Report claims that March witnessed a 300 percent increase in arrivals in the region and a proportional increase in the number of deaths.

Libyan Guards Kill Five Asylum Seekers and Injure 15 at Detention Centre

Amid recent reports of the Libyan migrant route reopening due to the recent E.U.–Turkey deal that will impede border crossings and entries from Turkey to Greece, at least five African asylum seekers were reported dead and 15 injured while trying to escape a Libyan detention centre, according to Migrant Report.

Local sources that spoke with the organization reported that a group of migrants attempted to escape a detention centre in the coastal town of Zawiya on April 2 when guards opened fire.

While Libyan migrant detention centres are infamous for brutal treatment of inmates, the detention centre at Zawiya is particularly known for its squalid conditions and abuse. “The conditions are terrible, severe overcrowding, no proper sanitation or proper medical facilities,” the local source said to Migrant Watch.

Human Rights Watch wrote that migrants and asylum seekers detained by Libyan authorities were subjected to flagrant human rights violations, including “beatings, whippings, cigarette burns, and electric shocks,” as part of its 2015 world report.

Reports of these recent deaths of migrants and asylum seekers off the Libyan coast and fatal shootings inside the Zawiya detention centre have not appeared in mainstream media outlets, indicating both a lack of access due to security conditions inside Libya and media prioritization of the Eastern Mediterranean crossings that have taken center stage.

Greece Begins Deportations Under E.U. Plan

Despite criticism of the E.U.–Turkey plan that will return migrants and asylum seekers who arrived in Greece after March 20 by boat to Turkey, Greek officials told A.P. that they are pushing ahead with deportations, starting with “migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries that are considered inadmissible.”

“Early Monday, refugees took ferries from the Greek island of Lesbos to Dikili, a town in western Turkey,” Newsweek reported.

Peter Sutherland, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative, said the deportations violate international law, especially if the asylum seekers’ applications are not reviewed before they are returned, while speaking with the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been accused of sending back Syrians arriving at its own borders, especially over recent months, making it unfit as a safe country for returns or resettlement.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has spelled out the legal considerations of the returns from Greece to Turkey and the viability of Turkey as both a safe third country for returns and a first country of asylum. The agency has expressed concern over inadequate conditions in both Greece and Turkey that jeopardize the safety of asylum seekers.

While the agency said “it did not object to returns of people without protection needs and who have not asked for asylum, providing that human rights are adhered to,” many Afghans escaping persecution and immediate threats to their lives will be immediately deported as “inadmissible” cases for asylum under this deal.

In reaction to recent protests by migrants and asylum seekers facing mass deportations, Greek government officials brushed off the unrest as “minor” episodes.

‘‘In situations where there is so much tension and people have been through an ordeal, it is not surprising to have minor incidents, which are usually resolved quickly,’’ said Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a refugee crisis committee, said to AP.

Recommended Reads:

Top image: Migrants rest on the deck of the German combat supply ship “Frankfurt am Main” on March 29 after being rescued during the EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

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