Filed two urgent appeals to allow 5 Eritreans to enter Italy.
In December 2021, some ASGI member lawyers on a mission carried out in Niamey and Agadez by the ASGI project Sciabaca & Oruka – Beyond the Border met in Niamey a family of four people, including two minors, and a young man, all from Eritrea and stranded in Niger for four years.
The family and the boy were evacuated from Libya to Niger through the Emergency Evacuation Mechanism (ETM) managed by UNHCR and once in Niger they followed the procedure for recognition of international protection. Although the process is not yet complete, UNHCR has given a negative opinion on their request for protection. The people in question fled from Eritrea, i.e. a country subjected to a harsh and long-lasting dictatorship, and arrived in Libya where they were tortured, sold, bought and arbitrarily detained.The boy left Eritrea when he was still a child, and as a underage boy he suffered numerous abuses that were inscribed in his biography, leaving deep scars. The who is part of the family suffers from epileptic seizures as a result of a head injury due to beatings inflicted in Libya and has depressive crises that worsened with the birth of her two children, the first born in a Libyan detention centre. In Niger they find themselves in an extremely precarious condition both in relation to their personal situation and in relation to the condition of the country: the risk of terrorism is high and there have been more than 700 victims of armed attacks since 2021.
What is the Emergency Transit Mechanism and how does it work?
In late 2017, the UNHCR approved a plan to evacuate and resettle asylum seekers and refugees from Libya in order to allow them access to protection and so-called ‘durable solutions’. To this end, the High Commission signed a Memorandum with Niger in December of the same year, which stipulated Niger’s readiness to receive people evacuated from Libya while respecting certain parameters, including a maximum period of residence in the country for each person of six months. The memorandum was renewed in February 2020 for a further period of two years. In 2019, a similar understanding was signed with Rwanda, where vulnerable persons are currently evacuated from Libya and where they await resettlement in a country of destination.
The ETM is one of the very few instruments put in place by international cooperation, and by Italy in particular, to mitigate the effects of the blockade of departures from Libya caused primarily by the implementation of the Italy-Libya Memorandum.
Despite its relevance from a humanitarian and emergency perspective, the ETM can in no way be considered as a mechanism granting access to protection capable of addressing the consequences of the departure blockade operated by the Libyan authorities with Italian support.
Indeed, there are several limitations of this programme: the first issue concerns the people having access to it.
In Libya, UNHCR can only register and provide assistance to people coming from 9 countries (Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen). All other people, regardless of their situation, cannot be registered and therefore cannot have access to any form of assistance and protection provided by UNHCR.
Of the registered persons, only the most vulnerable are considered eligible for evacuation.
The procedure for determining who can be evacuated is burdened with a high degree of discretionality and there are no procedural guarantees available to applicants. On the contrary, it is basically a concessionary and emergency mechanism.
Once evacuated, as is evident from the situation of the applicants, there is no certainty that they will then be resettled – there is no obligation to accept resettlement applications for the countries of destination – nor that they are guaranteed any form of protection under the laws in force in Niger or Rwanda (which are often more restrictive than those in force in the EU).
In these countries, moreover, minimum standards of reception and protection cannot be guaranteed for the duration of the procedure, which is very evident in the case of Niger.
The application for entry visas
As a result of these limitations, the people ASGI met in Niamey find themselves without any form of protection from the risks they face in the country and, more worryingly, from the risk of refoulement to their country of origin.
In response to this situation, the lawyers identified as the only solution to guarantee them access to protection the submission of applications for humanitarian entry visas to Italy. Following the refusal to issue the visas by the Italian Embassy in Niger, two urgent appeals were submitted to the Civil Court for the issuance of visas that would allow the people they met to enter Italy safely and request that they be granted refugee status.
Since the action taken by ASGI’s member lawyers is limited to the protection of the persons they have met, ASGI urges UNHCR to urgently reconsider the situation of the many people who have had access to the ETM.
ASGI calls on UNHCR to ensure that all persons who have had access to the ETM from Libya and are still in Niger are relocated as quickly as possible to an effectively safe third country to adequately guarantee their right to protection from refoulement in their state of origin and to a decent life.
The further stay of these people in a precarious and uncertain condition for more than six months in Niger, a very poor country with high security risks, can in no way be an adequate solution for people evacuated after periods of inhuman and degrading detention in Libya.
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