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Fresh evidence of violence at Libyan detention centres as boats turned back | Global development

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New evidence of starvation and abuses inside migrant detention centres has been collected from migrants inside seven facilities across Libya.

A report by Amnesty International comes less than a month after Médecins Sans Frontières announced it was suspending its operations at two centres in Libya because of increasing violence towards refugees and migrants.

Amnesty says it has more than 50 fresh accounts documenting severe beatings, sexual violence, extortion and forced labour at the centres, used to house people who have been forcibly returned after trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean.

In the report launched on Thursday, testimonies gathered between January 2020 and June 2021 allege that guards coerced women into sex in exchange for water and shot at detainees, causing deaths and injuries, while in one of the centres, people were reportedly starving.

Three women claimed that two babies detained with their mothers had died after guards refused to allow them to go to hospital for urgent medical treatment.

Thousands of refugees and migrants are held in detention centres across Libya, which are nominally run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) and overseen by the ministry of the interior.

The centres in Libya have been the repeated focus of allegations of violence and abuse by UN bodies, human rights organisations and charities. Libyan authorities have vowed to close DCIM centres rife with abuse, but human rights violations have continued unabated in newly opened or reopened centres, said Amnesty.

“The entire network of Libyan migration detention centres is rotten to its core and must be dismantled,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region. “Libyan authorities must close all migration detention facilities immediately and stop detaining refugees and migrants.”

Despite the well-documented abuse, the report added, EU member states continue to back the Libyan coastguard to stop migrants trying to flee to safety and return them to detention centres in Libya.

Between January and June 2021, the Libyan coastguard intercepted about 15,000 people at sea and returned them to Libya during what they labelled “rescue missions”, the report claimed.

There have been dozens of reports describing Libyan coastguards’ behaviour as negligent and abusive, with migrants reporting boats being damaged. In some cases boats were allegedly made to capsize into the central Mediterranean, where the Institute of Migration says more than 700 refugees and migrants drowned in the first six months of 2021.

Refugees and migrants told Amnesty they had seen aircraft overhead or ships nearby that did not offer them assistance before the arrival of the Libyan coastguards. Frontex, the European border agency, has carried out aerial surveillance over the Mediterranean to identify refugee and migrants’ boats and has operated a drone over this route since May. Frontex has consistently denied any accusations that it has not responded to mayday calls and previously said it has done “all that was humanly possible” to reach boats in distress.

Amnesty said European navies have largely abandoned the central Mediterranean to avoid having to rescue refugee and migrants’ boats in distress.

Eltahawy said: “It’s well past time for European states to acknowledge the indefensible consequences of their actions. They must suspend cooperation on migration and border control with Libya and instead open urgently needed pathways to safety for the thousands in need of protection currently trapped there.”

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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‘Freudian Slip’: Biden Confuses Trump With Obama in New Gaffe

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The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.

US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.

“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”

Apparently, Biden briefly messed up the timeline, confusing his predecessor, Trump, with the 44th US president, Obama. Even his quick apology did not prevent social media users from picking up on his gaffe.

​Some suggested that since a Freudian slip occurs as an action inspired by an internal train of thought or unconscious wish, it was Biden “dreaming” about working with Trump rather than Obama.

​Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.

​Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components. 

Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.



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Countdown to the airstrike: the moment Israeli forces hit al-Jalaa tower, Gaza | Global development

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Countdown to destruction

During the 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in May 2021, Israeli airstrikes destroyed five multi-storey towers in the heart of Gaza City. The images of buildings crumbling to the ground flashed across TV channels around the world as Gaza faced the most intense Israeli offensive since 2014. At least 256 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and 13 in Israel, including two children. Israel claimed it was destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, who had fired rockets at Israel after weeks of tension in Jerusalem over the planned displacement of Palestinian residents and police raids on al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.

Each time Israel said it was targeting Hamas and that it had warned the residents first. But what is it like to have only a few minutes to evacuate before watching your life collapse into rubble?

In conjunction with the civilian harm monitoring organisation Airwars, the Guardian spoke with dozens of residents and gathered footage and photos to piece together the story of one building, al-Jalaa tower, demolished by an Israeli airstrike on 15 May 2021. These are the stories from inside the tower, of the Mahdi clan, who owned and lived in the building, the Jarousha family and the Hussein family.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021.
Clockwise from top left: Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021; a 13-storey residential block collapses in the Gaza Strip on 11 May 2021; an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, 14 May 2021; smoke rises following an Israeli strike on al-Shorouq tower in Gaza City, 12 May 2021.

The story of al-Jalaa tower

The upscale Rimal area of Gaza City and its multi-storey towers had suffered since the bombing began. Though al-Jalaa was thought to be safe, night-long bombing had terrified its residents, who struggled to sleep. Fearing the impact of blasts, families had been sleeping in hallways away from the windows.

Children from al-Jalaa tower get ready to sleep in the hallway of the building for safety. Photo: Issam Mahdi

Al-Jalaa tower was built in 1994 as part of a property boom sparked by the landmark Oslo peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The first five floors were offices, with floors six to 10 inhabited by families. On floor 11, the top floor, were the Gaza offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, two of the world’s largest media companies. The ground floor had two levels of shops and beneath it was a car park.

Many of the residents came from the Mahdi family, including the building’s owner Jawad and his son Mohammed.

After each marriage in the Mahdi clan the new family settled into the tower. Jawad, 68, had traded in Israel before 2007 when the Jewish state blockaded Gaza after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory. Since then he has run his clothes company in Gaza.

The whole family had huddled together into a few apartments on the sixth floor for safety, but were about to be scattered as they rushed to evacuate.


Timeline



The aftermath

As Jawad searches through the rubble he finds a single folder. It contains pictures of his wedding day.

Jawad Mahdi with a photograph of his wedding day, found amid the rubble of al-Jalaa tower. Photo: Mohammed Mahdi

Mohannad and Suzanne’s cats were never found. “I still don’t know their fate until today,” Mohannad says. “Every day from the moment it was destroyed I was going to the building listening for any sound.”

Suzanne says their lives will never be the same. “Everything you love is gone – it doesn’t matter about the cupboards and beds and things. There are things my kids had when they were babies, clothes that I had from when I was a child – these were memories. There was a box with all the things from my father, god rest his soul, his glasses and mobile and pictures. Where am I going to get things like that again?

“We have become people without memories or mementoes. What is a person without those? If you have no memories you feel like you never lived.”

Walid Hussein, the engineer who had returned with his family from years living in the US, has become like a ghost. He has not a single document to prove who he is. Sometimes he thinks about going back to the US for his children, but he has his elderly mother in Gaza to support. He doesn’t want to have to make a choice. He shares his hopes for a peaceful future in Gaza:

“This is all we are asking for, to live a peaceful life. Very peaceful life, it means security, it means no harm to anybody, it means don’t touch my kids – not because you have this technology and this kind of weapon you bomb all of us from the air.”

Main photo: NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock, Guardian composite; Satellite images ©2021 Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty Images, Google Earth

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