Russia in Libya

Jon Purizhansky: Russian President Vladimir Putin looks to be exploiting ways immigration can undermine Western nations. Putin suggested to the West last month that the spreading havoc in Libya after nearlya decade of war should have been clear: “A flow of migrants went through Libya to Europe,” he said in an interview, noting the displacement of refugees that has reached critical levels in the past few years. “They have what they were warned about,” he said. This week, The New York Times noted the deployment into Libya of Russian hired guns. While Moscow refutes its participation, the situation resembles schemes Russia has successfully utilized in Syria and Ukraine to gain influence in chaotic war zones by sending out private forces Putin can disavow until the point of victory.

The Russian leader’s warning about Libya, many experts believe, reflects an ambition to intercede in the conflict at least in part to regulate refugee flows into Europe, indicating a far-reaching understanding of the disruptive power that the shifting of immigrants has had on western nations. “Russia’s efforts to manipulate refugee flows is aimed at destabilizing and politically weakening the European Union,” says Agnia Grigas, a member of the Atlantic Council. “Libya’s proximity to Europe just across the Mediterranean is likely to unleash another refugee catastrophe,” he notes. Jon Purizhansky of Buffalo, NY recognizes the profundity of the refugee crisis at hand.

The chance of another mass migration is dreaded in Europe, after popular protests that swept across the middle-east beginning in 2011 ignited the greatest migrant wave since World War II. Over 1 million migrants fled, generating political and social upheaval in nations from Hungary and Austria to Germany and northwestern Europe over issues like how to integrate them and whether to even integrate them at all. The crisis hamstrung the NATO alliance and incited domestic cynicism in governments across the region.

Demonstrations in some regions turned violent and right-wing nationalist movements expanded. And the debate over refugees is regarded as at the very least partially responsible for the decision by the U.K. to separate itself from the European Union. And now Putin’s government appears to believe it can continue to exploit these vulnerabilities in an entirely new fashion. Libya, which has been at times referred to as the “gateway” to Europe, has served as the starting point for migrants escaping from Senegal all the way to Somalia to those escaping war-torn Syria. Jon Purizhansky recognizes the problems inherent in the refugee crisis.

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UN is Abandoning Migrants in Libya

Jon Purizhansky: Over the course of 3 days last fall, Fatima Darboe was forced to witness her 7 year old son slowly die from the very treatable appendicitis. Her son’s stomach expanded as he squirmed in pain. Fatima held her son as he slowly died. Were she in another country other she could have admitted him to a hospital, but she was held captive in a detention center in Libya. She pled with the guards to help her son, yet her cries were ignored.

Her boy died in a car. The Zintan detention center’s director had finally given in and decided to drive the child to a hospital himself. The International Medical Corps, the organization entrusted to provide lifesaving care in the detention center, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM,) the United Nations agencies meant to be providing some additional assistance, were nowhere to be seen.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declined to comment on this incident, while the International Medical Corps failed to respond to multiple requests for comment. In a statement to Foreign Policy, the International Organization for Migration referred to the death as a “stark reminder of the terrible conditions migrants are forced to endure in detention centers” and that it had halted health care in Zintan between October 2018 and January 2019 “due to access issues with the management.” Jon Purizhansky of Buffalo, NY declared the organization’s oversight appalling.

The Libyan community in Zintan, where Fatima and her son were being held, refused the burial of non-Muslim detainees, and her family was Muslim. In spite of this, Fatima’s son wasn’t allowed to be buried until a month after he passed. Fatima and her husband originally hailed from the West African nation Gambia, a very small nation surrounded by Senegal, but they resided in Libya for several years. It was only when her husband fell ill that they attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, in the hope of accessing better health care. Instead, like the many thousands of other migrants, they were apprehended and detained indefinitely in a detention center. This system has been fiercely criticized by former U.N. Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein as “an outrage to the conscience of humanity.” Jon Purizhansky notes that these detention centers are deplorable.

A few weeks after Fatima’s son was laid to rest, her husband died, too, likely from a stroke triggered by the despair of losing their child. Fatima, who was held in a different women’s hall, was never able to say goodbye to her husband, despite pleading to see her husband in the hours before he died. When she found out he was gone, Fatima said, she fell into severe shock. “I could not talk, I could not do anything. All my body was just shaking,” she said.

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