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Hundreds of migrants under ‘slave market’
conditions in North Africa, UN agency says

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday warned that hundreds of migrants are being held under “slave market” conditions in North Africa, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters here.

“Describing the situation as ‘dire,’ the agency reported that hundreds of Sub-Saharan migrants bound for Libya are being sold and bought by Libyans with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” Dujarric said at a daily news briefing here.

Over the past week, the agency has also learned of several cases in which migrants have been kidnapped in exchange for ransom, the spokesman noted.

“The agency is raising awareness across Africa of these dangers by highlighting testimonies from migrants on local radio stations and social media,” he said.

Operations officers with IOM’s office in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

According to the young man’s testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay about 320 U.S. dollars to continue north, toward Libya.

A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where the young man witnessed a slave market taking place.

“The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages (in Libya),” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies. “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”

Abdiker said that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centers, where they are trying to improve conditions.

“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” he said. “Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

He said so far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Many describe being sold “in squares or garages” by locals in the southwestern Libyan town of Sabha, or by the drivers who trafficked them across the Sahara desert.

“To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio,” Doyle said. “Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalized and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.”



Italian lawmakers approve new measures to manage migration flows

ROME (Xinhua) -- The Italian parliament on Wednesday gave final approval to a package of measures to better manage the inflows of migrants and asylum seekers in the country.

The provision were already approved by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet with a decree in February, but needed parliamentary approval within 60 days.

The lower house passed it with 240 votes in favor and 176 votes against.

On Tuesday, the cabinet called and won a confidence vote on the decree.

Key measures in the package include boosting repatriation of illegal migrants, and shortening the average proceeding time for those who submit a request of asylum.

New permanent repatriation centers will be set up across the country, one in every Italian region, and their capacity should not exceed 150 available places each, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said in February.

Overall, the facilities will be able to host a total 1,600 migrants pending repatriation, and would be located near major transport infrastructures and, if possible, outside cities.

Another key pillar of the package concerns the length of asylum request proceedings. According to interior ministry’s estimates, it currently takes Italian authorities two years to give a definite response to an asylum application, which was considered a long waiting time.

Three provisions were introduced to speed up such procedures: firstly, it will be cancelled one of the two degrees in the Italian court system to which asylum seekers can currently appeal, in the case that their request is turned down.

But the right to appeal to Italy’s Court of Cassation will be reserved for the applicants in the case of rejection.

Secondly, asylum committees assessing all requests will be strengthened by recruiting 250 extra experts in order to alleviate their burden.

Thirdly, some 26 sections specialized in immigration, international protection, and free movement of European Union’s (EU) citizens will be created in about 14 Italian courts.

Another measure allows asylum seekers waiting for a reply to their requests to be involved by Italian municipalities in “socially useful” jobs, such as maintenance of public spaces, or volunteer work with local charities.

This practice is already in place in some Italian cities, and would aim at helping asylum seekers better integrate into the Italian society, according to the authorities.

But the new measures would not apply to unaccompanied minor migrants. In fact, a specific law has recently been approved, ensuring them a comprehensive protection, and the prohibition of turning them down at the border and of repatriating them.

Italy has taken in a large majority of the migration flows coming from North Africa to Europe through the Mediterranean since last year. It registered a record of 181,436 arrivals in 2016, up 17.9 percent and 6.66 percent over 2015 and 2014 respectively.

Some 25,846 children and adolescents travelled alone to the country last year, more than twice the number registered in 2015.

Regarding asylum seekers, Italy received 123,600 requests in 2016 against 83,900 in 2015, which marked a 47 percent increase.

Some 91,000 of those requests have been examined overall, with about 54,000 rejected, according to the interior ministry.



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