Fundamental Standards for the
Protection of Libyan Refugees and
Political Asylum Seekers
A. Omar Turbi
Libyan Human Rights Commission
2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E. Box 2535
Washingto D.C. 20013-2535
20 January 1996
The subject of my speech is the issue of political assylum seekers, and refugees as it relates to Libyans. Many Libyans whose Human Rights have been violated end up in illegal detention in prison inLibya. The few that succeed in fleeing political persecution, often leave behind economic opportunity. They seek political freedom at the expense of economic gains. Almost every Libyan political asylum application worldwide is due solely to political and religious persecution in Libya. I shall not go into any detail of Human Rights violations in Libya because it has been covered reasonably well by my colleagues in today's forum. I will instead examine the topic of political asylum in the context of International Law as a tangilble instrument in the promotion of Human Rights for Libyans worldwide.
My presentation here shall be based in nature for obvious reasons. However, it will be specific enough when covering the fundamental principles, and safeguards which are essential for the protection of Libyan asylum seekers around the world. Such principles and safeguards are based on internationally recognized standards, conventions, protocols, and procedures dealing with Human Rights and the protections of refugees.
The term "Refugees", and the term "Political asylum seekers" receive different interpretations: In Western Europe a refugee is the same as a political asylum seeker. In direct contrast to their interpretation in the United States of America, a refugee in the United States is generally someone who is fleeing a homeland due to war or economic hardships. However, the European interpretation is the literal application of the UNHCR's (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) definition for a political asylum seeker.
The issue of political asylum for Libyans is very sensitive and an important one especially at this time. There has never been as many Libyans seeking political asylum iin as many countries around the world as at this time. The rise in applications around the world which began in early 1985 has reached unprecedented figures. Libyans seek political asylum in many areas of the world, in the Arab countries, Western Europe and the United States.
The number of political asylum seekers around the world is not in the thousands. Nevertheless, when examined relative to the small population of Libya at about 4 million and when compared with other oil rich and wealthy countries of the world, the number of Libyan political asylum seekers is rather alarming at this time.
The principle of non-refoulement, which is recognized by the international community as a norm of international law, binding on the countries. It is set out in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to political asylum seekers:
"No Contracting State (Country) shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
Furthermore, Article 3.1 of the Convention Against Torture and the Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides that:
"No state (Country)Party shall expel, return ('refouler') or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of beeing subjected to torture."
Libyans seeking political asylum in Arab countries, like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, etc.... not only are denied political asylum but are never given the opportunity of standard procedures that are required by international conventions. Procedures that are designed to either lead to an acceptance or denial. In the rare cases when a Libyan is allowed to stay in an Arab country, he or she is subject to deportation to Libya at a moment's notice. Indeed many Libyans were handed over by the Egyptians and Morrocans to the Libyan government for the purpose of political and monetary gains. This was done without the least regard for integrity, the well being of the asylum seekers or respect for international conventions of which Egypt and Morocco are signatories. Dr. Naseer Aruri, in a recent speech, sums it up: "The Arab world is unfortunately well endowed with autocracies. Irrespective of the type of government pro-West or anti-West, presumed progressive, monarchical or republican, secular or fundamentalist, irrespective of all these dichotomies,, the region is truely a disaster in terms of Human Rights." Libyan dissidents have often fallen victims to such practices. Case and point, Mr. Mansour Kikhia a known Human Rights activist, who sought temporary political asylum in Egypt to attend a Human Rights conference ended up in Libya before the watchful eyes and ears of the Egyptian authorities.
In Western Euorope and the United States, although most Libyan political asylum applications receive favorable treatment, many of them do not go without complications. Libyans in England in particular have had their share of hardships, from prolonged detentions while their cases are under review by the British immigration, to premature deportation to third countries. There are cases here in Germany that have dragged on far as long as eight years, in blatent violation of the International Convenant of Civil and Political Rights, relevant Conclusions adapted by the intergovernmental Executive committee of the UNHCR, and Recommendation R(81)16 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe dealing with political asylum. The arduous and laborious process endured by Libyan applicants takes it toll. While one's application is under review his or her freedom of movement is restricted, has no rights to pursue higher academics, or work leading to hardships and to psychological depression.
Libyan Human Rights Commission, based in Washingto D.C. has been very busy around the world immersed in backlog of Libyan political asylum application, constrained by very limited resources. Libyan Human Rights Commission urges all countries including Arab countries that have Libyan political asylum seekers to take the following procdural points and international law into account:
1. Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
"Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from prosecution."
2. Article 3.1, 33 of the UN 1951 Convention inscribed above.
3. Article 31 of the UN convention provides: A Contracting State shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence...... And Article 18(2) which deals with landing permission (Immigration Control & Refugees Recognition Act.)
4. Observe Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights...provides that non-nationals lawfully in the country are entitled to...submit the reasons against expulsion ....
5. Adhere to the UNHCR handbook on procedures which provides:
"It should be recalled that an applicant for refugee status is normally in a particularly vulnerable situation. He finds himself in an alien environment and many experience serious difficulties, technical and psychological, in submitting his case to the authorities of a foreign country, often in a language not his own....."
6. Follow Procedural safeguards provided in Amnesty International's Fundamental Standards for the Protection of Refugees AI INDEX: POL 33/03/93.
7. Countries dealing with Libyan political asylum cases ought not use the Libyan regime's reports to the UN human Rights Committee as a determining guide. Such reports are misleading and a misrepresentation on the state of Human Rights in Libya (Example: report dated May 4, 1993 CCPR/C/28/Add.16.)
It is evident from the 1951 United Nations Convention that the decision as to whether a Libyan asylum seeker is entitled to protection against forcible return to a particular country should be based on reliable assesment of the risk he or she faces in that country. It is not a decision that should be influenced by immigration, foreign policy, or economic considerations, given the severe consequences of a wrong decision. In reviewing a Libyan political asylum applicant, a given country must recognize the following facts:
A. In almost all cases Libyans seek political asylum due to fear of persecution in Libya and not for economic opportunity.
B. In a history spanning nearly 25 years, Libyans that have been granted political asylum around the world have demonstrated excellent citizenship, zero crime rate, and without exception are high achievers: as Professors in leading institutions, medical doctors, scientists, and successful businessmen.
Back to: Libya: Our Home