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Thursday, 2 February 2017 - 2:26pm

EU leaders gather in Malta this Friday where they are expected to back a new deal, which would support the blocking of migrant departures from the coast, forcibly returning them to the war-torn country.

If adopted, the EU risks condemning children to widespread abuses at the hands of smugglers and armed factions in Libya.

The EU plan will include training for Libyan coastguards to stop migrant boats leaving for Europe and aims to “break the business of smugglers”. However, with no solid human rights guarantees and protections for those that remain in Libya, children are at prolonged and increased risk of violence.

“Simply pushing desperate children back to a country which many describe as hell is not a solution,” said Ester Asin, EU Advocacy Office Director for Save the Children in Brussels.

“The EU is yet again outsourcing its responsibility to protect the rights of migrants and refugees with no guarantees about what will happen to the many men, women and children after they have been returned to Libya.”

“Refugees could be detained in Libya, where conditions in detention centres are widely seen as inhuman and people have reported being beaten, whipped and hung from trees. We have heard countless reports of women and children suffering persecution, beating and rape.

“We are also concerned that families might be forcibly sent back to the same countries where they fled from persecution, war, rape, torture and exploitation.” 

Save the Children’s search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have saved more than 2,700 people since September, including more than 400 children, most of whom were travelling alone.

“Many of the children we have saved report harrowing ordeals in Libya as well as on the journey there. They tell us about being physically or sexually abused by smugglers or subjected to forced labour and forced recruitment by armed groups.

“While the EU plan envisions improving conditions in reception centres, the fact that it includes no guarantees whatsoever is deeply troubling.”

Rob MacGillivray, Director of Save the Children’s Search and Rescue programme, said: “What we see in our operations aren’t smugglers, but extremely vulnerable people who have suffered horrific violence and exploitation in their country of origin, during their journey, and in Libya.

“Traditionally, ending rescue operations has not stopped smugglers sending people out to sea but has led to a spike in migrant deaths and only caused people to risk more dangerous routes.”

“Resettlement, humanitarian visas, but also possibilities for student and labour migration need to be expanded to prevent people from risking their lives at sea. More money should also be spent on addressing the conditions that force people to migrate in the first place, by increasing development aid for poor countries and working to end violence and persecution in their countries of origin.”

Save the Children has, along with more than 100 development, humanitarian and human rights organisations, repeatedly spoken out about the Migration Partnership Framework that was adopted by the EU last year.

“The framework, of which the new proposal is just the latest part, envisions greater cooperation between the EU and countries in Africa and the Middle East but we feel only serves one objective - curbing migration at the expense of European credibility and leverage in defence of fundamental values and human rights,” Asin said.

To arrange an interview please contact simona.sikimic@savethechildren.org / Mobile +44 (0) 7826 672131 | Office: +44 (0) 207 012 6400 to arrange an interview.

Or alternatively call the 24 hour media line on +44 7831650409 / media@savethechildren.org.uk