European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration authorities in appalling conditions in Libya, said Amnesty International in a report published in the wake of global outrage over the sale of migrants in Libya.
Determined to cut African immigration across the Mediterranean, the governments, via the European Union, have provided support to Libya, trained its coastguard and spent millions of euros through U.N. agencies to improve conditions in detention camps where Libya puts the migrants.
‘Libya’s dark web of collusion’ details how European governments are actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.
The advocacy group said up to 20,000 people were now held in these centers and subject to “torture, forced labor, extortion, and unlawful killings”, adding to similar allegations made by other rights organizations over the past months.
“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s head for Europe, said.
The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, was not immediately available for comment.
Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities have begun to block departures under pressure from Italy, the main landing point. More than 600,000 have made the journey over the past four years.
Amnesty said the Libyan coastguards – which the EU backs to intercept people heading for Europe – work hand-in-hand with people smugglers, including in torturing people to extort money.
“By supporting Libyan authorities in trapping people in Libya … European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused,” said Dalhuisen.
With Libya being largely a lawless states since the fall of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, some EU officials and diplomats chafe at what they see as being forced to rely on sometimes shady characters in the matrix of alliances between militias.
The presidency of Libya’s U.N.-backed government said last month it was a victim of illegal migration, not a source of it, and appealed to foreign powers to help stop flows from migrants’ countries of origin.