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‘The EU must be held accountable for the crimes it has committed against people trying to reach its borders’

Refugee turned activist YAMBIO DAVID OLIVER tells The Civil Fleet what led to the protests outside a UNHCR registration centre in Tripoli

Europe must be held accountable for the human rights abuses committed against the people trying to reach safety across its borders, refugees trapped in Libya told The Civil Fleet today.

A group of around 1,600 people — mostly from Sudan, but also from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea — have been protesting daily outside a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) registration centre in the capital.

The protesters began gathering there at the beginning of October after a brutal police raid on the Gargaresh neighbourhood in which about 4,000 people were violently rounded up and forced into the country’s condemned immigration detention centres.

“Life has been a real hell for us in Libya,” Yambio David Oliver, a 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee turned activist, told The Civil Fleet today.

“We have lived through repeated circles of suffering, rapes, torture, arbitrary detentions, extortion and killings,” he said.

“I was personally influenced to become an activist because of the grave violations of my rights that I have been frequently subjected to while in these Libyan lands.”

Yambio and a large group of men, women and children have spent days camping outside the UNHCR building calling for their evacuation from the country.

The group have been posting videos of their protests on social media almost daily, calling themselves Refugees in Libya. Yambio has become one of the group’s spokesmen.

In a video posted on Wednesday, Yambio says in English: “Libya cannot [guarantee our protection and safety] because it did not sign or ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.

He stands amid a group of around 60 men, women and children holding up their asylum documents and UNHCR refugee recognition papers in front of the closed gates of the reception centre.

“We are the hidden workforce in Libya,” he says. “We contribute a lot to the Libyan economy. But this is not enough.

“[The Libyan authorities] want control of our bodies, over the bodies of our women. They rape them and they have no right to talk about it. They kill them and they have no right to talk about it.

“The international community is bearing witness to this. [There has been] a lot of documentation and evidence [of human right abuses in Libya].

“These people have not been held accountable. Why is Libya not being held accountable. This is the question to the world. Why are we being failed?”

The UNHCR closed the centre earlier this month, citing violence on its staff. The protestors, however, say the violence was started by the Libyan police. Either way, the conditions outside the building are fraught.

“There is not a single toilet or bathroom for us,” Yambio told The Civil Fleet. “There is no clean drinking water, no blankets or shelter, no food, no access to healthcare, no sanitary pads for women and diapers for children.”

Asked what he would like to say to Britain and the EU about the situation he and his fellow refugees are in, Yambio says: “The EU must be held accountable together with Libya for the crimes it has committed against persons trying to reach its borders.

“Britain has to revise its migration policy and Frontex [the European Border and Coastguard agency] should be abolished.

“The funding for the so-called Libyan coastguards must be stopped, and our brothers and sisters must be liberated from Libya’s detention centres.

“The people sleeping outside the UNHCR headquarters must be evacuated quickly. UNHCR Libya can not do it without the help of other countries, including the Britain.

“We are begging them to offer more resettlement and evacuations slots to us and to help fight the crisis in Libya.

“We have suffered so much for years and we must be heard, not as immigrants or refugees but as humans.

“The shadow that Europe has created in Libya has tormented and killed thousands. Its shadow has deprived us from our fundamental rights, including our right to life and to seek asylum.

“I hope you can put these very words to the global public. Everyone of us has role to play to save humanity.”

Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking rescue ship saved the lives of 114 people from a rubber boat in distress in international waters off Libya this morning.

Among the survivors, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which has a team of medics on SOS Mediterranea’s ship, were women and newborns.

“The youngest is 11 days [old]. All are now being cared for by the IFRC and SOS Mediterranee’s post-rescue teams.

Some of Yambio David Oliver’s comments were edited for grammatical purposes with his consent

Top image shows Yambio David Oliver

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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