EU risks fuelling horrific abuse of refugees and migrants in Libya

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16 Jun 2016
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

The EU's plans to cooperate more closely with Libya on migration risk fuelling the rampant ill-treatment and indefinite detention in horrifying conditions of thousands of refugees and migrants, said Amnesty International.

Last month the EU announced plans to extend its anti-smuggling naval mission in the Mediterranean for another year and to train, build up the capacity of and share information with the Libyan coastguard following a request by the new Libyan government. However, testimonies gathered during visits to Sicily and Puglia in May 2016 reveal shocking abuses by the Libyan coastguard and at immigration detention centres in Libya.

Amnesty International spoke to 90 people who survived the treacherous sea crossing from Libya to Italy, including at least 20 refugees and migrants who described shootings and beatings while being picked up by the coastguard or harrowing torture and other ill-treatment at detention centres. In one case, the Libyan coastguard abandoned a sinking boat leaving some 120 people on board instead of rescuing them.

It is critical that any support from the EU does not fuel and perpetuate the abhorrent human rights violations that foreign nationals in Libya are so desperate to escape from.

On 7 June the European Commission announced further plans to enhance cooperation and partnerships with key third countries in the region to manage migration; Libya was identified as one of the priority countries.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) more than 2,100 people lost their lives trying to make the dangerous sea crossing to Italy in the first five months of this year alone. More than 49,000 survived the journey to Italy - virtually all were rescued by European naval forces, NGOs and merchant vessels.

Abuses by the Libyan coastguard

At least 3,500 people were intercepted at sea by the Libyan coastguard between 22 and 28 May 2016 and transferred to detention centres.

The centres are run by the Department to Combat Irregular Migration (DCIM) which nominally falls under the control of Libya's Ministry of Interior, but in practice many are run by members of armed groups.

Libyan law criminalizes entering, exiting and staying in Libya irregularly and allows for the indefinite detention of foreign nationals for the purpose of deportation. Those detained often stay in centres for months without access to their families, lawyers or judges and are unable to challenge their detention or access protection. Deportations are carried out without any safeguards or assessment of individual claims.

"As a first step Libya must urgently end the unlawful detention and torture and other ill-treatment of foreign nationals and adopt asylum legislation to ensure those in need of international protection are given refuge," said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Former detainees said guards beat them on a daily basis using wooden sticks, hoses, electric cables and rifles as well as subjecting them to electric shocks.

Several people said they had witnessed refugees or migrants dying in detention, either shot dead or beaten to death by the guards.

Former detainees also complained of a lack of food, drinking water, poor medical care and squalid conditions.

"The EU cannot ignore these true horror stories about the shocking abuses committed on a daily basis against foreign nationals in Libya. Before any migration policies and programmes are designed, there have to be rock-solid guarantees that refugees and migrants rights are fully respected in Libya - something that is highly unlikely to be the case in the near future," said Magdalena Mughrabi.

14 June 2016

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