By David Raleigh
Shocking claims by a leading medical charity that an EU migrant sea rescue operation, in which an Irish naval vessel is participating in, is helping the Libyan coastguard return migrants to camps for torture, rape and murder, must be “taken very seriously”, the leader of Fianna Fáil said today.
Reacting to the story, as first reported in today's Irish Times, Micheál Martin said Ireland could not be associated with the EU naval Operation Sophia, which is continuing in the Mediterranean, should the allegations made by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) be found to be true.
The Irish naval vessel participating in the operation is the LE Samuel Beckett.
MSF, citing accounts from its staff in Libya, says the EU operation, which the LE Samuel Beckett is participating in, is offering assistance to the regime there to intercept vessels in the Mediterranean and return them to the camps in Libya.
“I have great respect for Médecins Sans Frontières, and if they are making accusations of this kind, they have to be taken very seriously," Mr Martin said, speaking in Limerick.
Reinforcing #Europe's borders to trap people inside #Libya is not a solution. It only pushes the suffering offshore. #MSF urges the #EUCO to show some basic decency & remember that we are talking about human lives & human sufferinghttps://t.co/L5Slod4zW1— MSF Ireland (@MSF_ireland) June 29, 2018
Mr Martin also welcomed news that the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee was to hear representative testimony from MSF workers which suggests that rape, sexual abuse, torture, slavery and murder are common when migrants are returned to Libya.
“If (the Oireachtas committee) recommend, or they are satisfied that, there is something wrong there, we certainly don't want to be part of returning anybody to a situation where they are going to face rape, and assault, and abuse,” said Mr Martin.
“That is not sustainable, that we would be part of that operation.”
Ireland is hoping to secure a seat on the UN Security Council which considers matters of human rights, however Mr Martin said getting to the heart of the migrant crisis and providing safety for migrants “isn’t simple”.
“The whole migration story is immersed with (human) trafficking by dark forces that are exploiting human misery. We don't want to be part of an operation that would return migrants to an unacceptable situation in terms of abuse etc,” he continued.
It is time for @campaignforleo and European leaders to stop trying to blame NGOs and instead focus on humane migration policies that don’t condemn people to being trapped in Libya or drowning at sea— MSF Ireland (@MSF_ireland) June 30, 2018
Ireland’s UN peacekeeping operations would be effective in providing a secure environment for those living in the camps, he said.
“We have a lot of experience in Africa, for example. offering security and protection to camps that have always been vulnerable to hostile elements.
"In Liberia, and Chad, we have protected many many peoples who are in emergency situations in terms of the security of their food supplies, and (ensuring) that they would have a reasonable quality of life in the camps.”
Mr Martin paid tribute to the Irish navy for “the overall role Int had played in this humanitarian crisis and migrant crisis”.
“They have saved many lives as part of a European approach to rescuing refugees and migrants on the seas,” he added.
Mr Martin, who called on “Europe to invest in the camps” said Ireland must also lead by example and treat better those lining in direct provision here.
“Unfortunately the Housing crisis compounds the issue. Quite a number of people are now free to leave the centres, but there’s no housing available. So, we are into a really challenging situation in terms of facilitating people to move out of the (direct provision) centres and into independent living.”