219593 8/5/2009 13:50 09TRIPOLI637 Embassy Tripoli CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN 08STATE112873|09TRIPOLI273|09TRIPOLI579 VZCZCXRO5318 PP RUEHBC RUEHBZ RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDU RUEHKUK RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHROV DE RUEHTRO #0637/01 2171350 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P R 051350Z AUG 09 FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5119 INFO RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 0546 RUEHVT/AMEMBASSY VALLETTA 0431 RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0021 RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE RUEHBM/AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST 0003 RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5659 C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000637
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, PRM/A (SHEINLEIN), DRL/NEASA (CHARRIS)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 7/28/2019 TAGS: PREF, PHUM, PREL, IT, LY SUBJECT: UN OFFICIAL SAYS LIBYA, ITALY SHIRKING HUMAN RIGHTS RESPONSIBILITIES
REF: A. TRIPOLI 579 B. 08 STATE 112873 C. TRIPOLI 273
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CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, US Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: The top UNHCR official in Tripoli voiced concern that Italian-Libyan cooperation to return migrants interdicted in the Mediterranean to Libya was violating the migrants' human rights and endangering bona fide asylum seekers. He noted that some migrants had been forcibly and violently returned by Italian officials, leaving several migrants in need of urgent medical care. Libya, in turn, did not grant UNHCR officials access to screen returned migrants for asylum seekers until several days after their return. UNHCR remains hopeful that the European Commission will lean on both Italy and Libya to fulfill their commitments under international conventions and will press Libya to sign a formal MOU allowing UNHCR to operate normally in the country. UNHCR reported that it was focusing more attention on resettlement to the U.S. and expects the first visit of the regional Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) to visit Libya shortly after Ramadan (early October). The Chief of Mission asked that the USG remain open to resettlement via UNHCR-run processing centers in Europe and asked for further guidance on whether migrants screened by the OPE and subsequently transferred to Romania would need to begin the entire resettlement process again. End summary.
UNHCR: REFUGEE CRISIS AS SOURCE OF RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FROM ITALY, LIYBA
2. (C//NF) In a July 28 meeting with Pol/Econ chief and Poloff, UNHCR Chief of Mission Mohammed al-Wash complained that Italy was breaking its commitments to support UN and EU charters on human rights by returning asylum seekers to Libya with other economic migrants, and strongly denounced the Italian Coast Guard's tactics while forcing migrants to return. He cited the example of the return of 80 migrants -- including several refugees registered with UNHCR in Tripoli, Addis Ababa, and Cairo -- interdicted by Italy on or around July 1 who later related their story to UNHCR staff. When the vessel carrying the migrants was stopped, three Eritrean representatives reportedly asked to speak with the Italian ship's commander to inform him of their refugee status. Several on the boat produced their UNHCR attestations for the commander. Replying that he was under strict orders from his government to return migrants to Libya, the Italian commander reportedly ordered that all migrants - including those registered with UNHCR -- be removed from their vessel for transport to Libya. Some of the migrants refused, leading to physical altercations between the migrants and the Italian crew that ended with the Italians beating some Africans with plastic and metal batons, leaving at least six injured. Migrants on the boat reportedly filmed the incident with their mobile phones, leading the Italian crew to confiscate phones, documents, and personal belongings that have not yet been returned.
3. (C//NF) The migrants were eventually delivered to an oil platform (operated by ENI) off the coast of Libya on or around July 2, from which point they were delivered to Libya's Zawiya detention center. After two days of asking for access, UNHCR was allowed to visit Zawiya detention center (approximately 25 miles west of Tripoli) to visit 13 women and children from the group. One pregnant woman was in urgent need of medical care. Two days later, UNHCR was granted access to the men in Zwara detention center (approximately 80 miles west of Tripoli), where they interviewed migrants with fresh stitches on their heads and faces who recounted the events surrounding their forced return to Libya. UNHCR then submitted these claims to the GOI in Rome and has not yet received a response.
4. (C//NF) Al-Wash alleged that the Italian government was intentionally stonewalling the UN. According to al-Wash, Italian Ambassador Francesco Trupiano refuses to meet with UNHCR and told al-Wash that he was a "troublemaker." Al-Wash believed that that Trupiano was single-mindedly focused on returning migrants to Libya and claimed to be unaware that Rome had agreed in principle to accept 63 refugees for resettlement from Libya. UNHCR has also submitted to the GOI a list of 93 refugees that have been returned since Italy and Libya began joint patrols in May. According to al-Wash, Rome agreed to accept "20 or 30" of the 93 refugees, provided EU states committed to a burden-sharing agreement, though states did not seem eager to undertake one. Al-Wash was hopeful the EC would intercede to bring Italy in line, citing the EC's inclusion of Libya signing an MOU with UNHCR as part of its requirements for a Framework Agreement (ref A) and a recent letter from the Commission to the
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Italian Interior Ministry, reminding it of its obligations under the EU's Human Rights Charter.
REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT: UNHCR PLANNING FOR IN-COUNTY PROCESSING
5. (C) Al-Wash reported that the Tripoli office was shifting its focus to beginning refugee resettlement to the U.S. via the standard processing route, i.e. pre-processing by IOM Cairo before in-country DHS interviews. Al-Wash said he had already been in touch with IOM Cairo, which will send a team of five Egyptian officers to Tripoli in early October to begin screening the first tranche of refugees. Since early June, UNHCR Tripoli has submitted over 80 cases to the regional hub in Beirut with an eye toward resettlement in the U.S. in early 2010. He said they were continuing to locate and identify new cases each day in the hopes that they could have all 120 cases allotted by the USG (ref b) ready for screening this fall.
6. (C) Al-Wash noted, however, that the change in tack would not be without challenges. He highlighted that there were no official interpreters for Tigrinya or Afar in Libya, necessitating the use of informal translators from the community. Those community members would need to be trained and made to sign codes of conduct regarding confidentiality and accuracy. With only three weeks remaining before a month-long break for Ramadan, al-Wash is eager to finalize plans with the regional OPE to prevent last-minute surprises. Without a functioning International Committee of the Red Cross office in Libya, UNHCR would also need to obtain travel documents from Tunis, adding both time and complication to the resettlement process.
7. (C) On a more positive note, al-Wash said several Eritrean refugees slated for resettlement in the U.S. had been released from detention in Misrata (approximately 125 miles east of Tripoli) and were now located in Tripoli, making both prescreening and eventual DHS interviews significantly less complicated. Poloff stressed that continuing those efforts would be key as DHS would not be able to interview refugees in detention during the scheduled visit December 6-22. While al-Wash was hopeful that recent developments would make in-country processing possible, he asked that the USG remain open to processing migrants via Romania or a new facility in Eastern Europe. Anticipating that last-minute surprises could derail efforts to resettle to the U.S. via in-country processing, al-Wash sought guidance as to whether refugees pre-screened by IOM Cairo would be forced to begin the process anew were they to be subsequently transferred to Romania, or whether DHS would be able to conduct their screening there more quickly due to the in-country pre-screen.
8. (C//NF) Comment: Stemming the flow of migrants to Italy was a key component of the Italian-Libyan "Friendship Treaty" signed last August. In recent G-8 coordination meetings with the UN, Italian diplomats boasted that they had finally gotten Libya to fulfill that obligation; this incident seems to indicate the Italy may be pushing Libya to do so at the expense of both countries' obligations regarding the protection of UN-protected asylum seekers. Libya appears to be caught between two strong desires: to reduce the strain that foreign migrants and refugees cause on its prison and security systems, while at the same time seeking to improve relations with Italy. Both of these pressures - internal and external - may ultimately create a political opening for Libya to regularize the processing of UNHCR-recognized refugees and accept refugee resettlement to the United States. End Comment. CRETZ