At least 2,600 migrants and refugees have been transferred to Libyan detention centres in the past two months alone, Amnesty International revealed today.
The human rights group estimates that at least 7,000 migrants and refugees are languishing in Libyan detention centres, a sharp increase from March when there were 4,400 detainees.
The increase has been attributed to a surge in the number of migrants and refugees being intercepted at sea by the Libyan authorities. Libya has recently played a greater role in preventing the passage of migrants and refugees into Europe at the behest of Mediterranean countries keen to reduce the numbers reaching their shores.
Amnesty has accused European governments of complicity in the abuse taking place in the detention centres through their active supporting of the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and sending people back to detention centres in Libya.
Conditions in the detention centres are known to be dire. Amnesty has described the centres as “squalid”, with detainees regularly facing torture, extortion and abuse. Food and water is also known to be in short supply. The detention centres were described as “an outrage to humanity” by United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, after UN monitors visited Libya in November 2017.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, Heba Morayef, said:
The EU is turning a blind eye to the suffering caused by its callous immigration policies that outsource border control to Libya.
She added that “the EU must stop using the Libyan Coast Guard to contain people in Libya, and instead work to close detention centres, resettle refugees in Europe, and enable UNHCR to assist all refugees across Libya.”
Europe’s outsourcing of border control to Libya is controversial. Italy has come under particularly heavy criticism after it signed a deal with Libya in February 2017 to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. As a result of the deal, Italy is currently responsible for training, equipping and funding the Libyan coast guard
Italy has previously defended the deal to cooperate with Libya on returning migrants, with Italian Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, arguing that the deal had yielded results. In August 2017, the number of African migrants and refugees reaching Italian shores from Libya was down 87 per cent on the previous year, according to the Guardian.
Libya has been the main departure point for migrants and refugees trying to cross to Europe by sea for several years. Numbers reached a peak in 2016 after several Balkan countries closed their borders and cut off the so-called “Balkan Route” used by many hoping to reach northern Europe.