Geneva - Euro-Med Monitor’s team met Thursday in Geneva with the International Organisation for Migration’s incoming Senior Regional Advisor to the Director General for Middle East and North Africa, Othman Belbeisi, to discuss the situation of migrants in Libya, the Gulf region countries, Lebanon, and Europe.

Several topics were discussed, including IOM’s voluntary return programmes, the pushback by officials of asylum seekers and migrants who reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, the grim conditions at Libyan detention centres, and the inhumane living conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf.

Questions of how media pressure, populism, distorted perceptions, and political expediency in Europe have come together to create a hostile and inefficient policy that forces asylum seekers and migrants away from Europe’s borders—rather than understanding the root causes of the problem—were also discussed.

   Migrants and asylum seekers resort to irregular, unofficial, and dangerous migration routes such as the Mediterranean due to a clear lack of safe and legal routes for asylum and migration in Europe   

Muhammed Shehada, Chief of Programmes and Communications at Euro-Med Monitor

In regard to IOM’s voluntary return programme of migrants at infamous Libyan detention camps, the Euro-Med Monitor team emphasised the need to ensure the voluntary and well-informed consent of migrants. Also stressed was the critical need for integration programmes that, upon migrants’ return, will target individuals as well as the communities they come from.

The team highlighted the paramount need to ensure that IOM’s work does not in any way overlook or aid perpetrators of human rights violations at Libyan detention centres, or do any harm to target groups. Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief of Programmes and Communications, Muhammed Shehada, said that the meeting is a part of a pressure and advocacy campaign led by Euro-Med Monitor in light of the rise in number of migrant and asylum seeker victims in the MENA region.

Shehada argued that migrants and asylum seekers resort to irregular, unofficial, and dangerous migration routes such as the Mediterranean due to a clear lack of safe and legal routes for asylum and migration in Europe. He asserted that awareness-raising campaigns against sea migration are inefficient, as they do not address the despair and desperation that leads people on the move to resort to such risky routes.

According to Belbeisi, IOM intervenes at multiple levels to aid migrants in dire situations in Libya, by providing hygiene products, blankets, mattresses, clinics, and opportunities for registration at detention centres. He also cited IOM’s education of centre guards, referral of sick migrants to hospitals, and attempts to mediate with government officials.

Belbeisi added that IOM takes necessary precautions to ensure migrants who request voluntary return are doing so out of their own informed will, adding that IOM had stopped planes in situations where some migrants were suspected of being forced.

As for the Gulf, the Euro-Med Monitor team raised the urgent issue of migrants being detained in overcrowded camps in Saudi Arabia that lack basic infrastructure and care services, as well as the ongoing exploitation of migrant workers there. In scenarios in which migrants are forced to go back to their home countries, IOM refrains from aiding in the return process—consequently working to mediate between the government and the embassies of detained migrants.

Belbeisi explained that IOM works to report abuses against migrant workers while taking into consideration any contractual agreements that migrants have signed. Similarly, in Lebanon, migrants who request voluntary return are evaluated based on their honouring of signed work contracts and the abuses they are facing.

In terms of sea migration from Libya and Lebanon, Belbeisi pointed to a distorted European view of swarms of migrants crossing to Europe by sea, whereas the actual numbers are much smaller in comparison. “80%-85% of migration in Africa happens within the continent”, Belbeisi explained, adding that the majority of detained migrants in Libya wanted to stay and make a living inside the country.

Belbeisi noted that IOM has advocated for creating safe and legal pathways to migration in Europe and the MENA region, such as allowing for temporary seasonal migration and easing regulations and conditions for labour migration—ideas that have not gained much traction among the organisation’s European counterparts.