European leaders stand accused by Amnesty International of being knowingly complicit in the torture and exploitation of thousands of migrants and refugees by the EU-financed Libyan coastguard and officials running the country’s detention camps.
In an attempt to stem the flow of people across the Mediterranean to Europe, the EU is financing a system that routinely acts in collusion with militia groups and people traffickers to “make money from human suffering”, a report from the human rights group claims.
Following the provision of ships, training and funding from the EU and Italy to the Libyan coastguard, the number of arrivals to Italy fell by 67% between July and November compared with the same period in 2016. Deaths at sea have been reduced commensurately.
Yet Amnesty claims the coastguard and those to whom they hand over refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, are often acting in cahoots with criminal gangs and militia.
Agreements between the coastguard and smugglers are signalled by markings on boats that allow specific vessels to pass through Libyan waters without interception, it is claimed. The coastguard has also been known to escort boats out to international waters.
Those are who are intercepted on their way to Europe are sent to camps run by the Libyan general directorate for combating illegal migration (DCIM), where torture for the purposes of extracting money is almost routine, Amnesty reports.
One man from Gambia, who was detained for three months, told Amnesty how he was starved and beaten in a detention centre. “They beat me with a rubber hose because they want money to release me,” he said. “They call the family while beating [you] so the family send money.”
After interviews with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and meetings with Libyan officials and others with knowledge of the abuses, Amnesty claims it now has sufficient evidence to take leaders of EU states to international courts over alleged abuses of human right obligations.
“You will see us in court,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director. “Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of the Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres where they are subjected to systematic abuse.
“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.”
Up to 20,000 people are currently held in what the Amnesty report, Libya’s Dark Web of Collusion, says are overcrowded, unsanitary centres, often under the control of militia and criminals.
“For some time there has been concern that the price for stemming migration has been the human rights of those seeking to come to the EU,” the report says.
Last month the French president, Emmanuel Macron, described the abuse of migrants as “a crime against humanity” and said the EU and the African Union would “launch concrete military and policing action on the ground to dismantle those networks”.
In March, a review by the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact said the UK role in the capacity-building programme with the Libyan coastguard was “deliver[ing] migrants back to a system that leads to indiscriminate and indefinite detention and denies refugees their right to asylum”.
The UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described the suffering of migrants in Libyan camps as an “outrage to the conscience of humanity”.
It is claimed by Amnesty that the EU member states “cannot plausibly claim to be unaware of the grave violations being committed by some of the detention officials and coastguard agents with whom they are so assiduously cooperating”.
Brussels stands accused of failing to install the necessary rights protection mechanisms and guarantees from its Libyan counterparts.
The reports says: “The lack of any judicial oversight of the detention process and the near total impunity with which officials operate has facilitated the institutionalisation of torture and other ill-treatment in detention centres.”
Last month Mohamed Alkoni, the Libyan charge d’affaires, said any proven allegation of slavery was “an act of an individual, and not a systematic practice”.