Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that migrants and asylum seekers end up in "nightmarish detention," and accused the EU and Italy of contributing to the cycle of abuse.
In a 70-page report, 'No Escape from Hell': EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya,' the rights group said that the EU and Italy's support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya. The report documents "severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition and lack of adequate health care."
After visiting four detention centres in Libya, HRW said that it found violent abuse by guards, including beatings and whippings. Furthermore, a large number of children, including newborn babies, were witnessed being detained in grossly unsuitable conditions in three out of the four detention centres.
"Migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya, including children, are trapped in a nightmare, and what EU governments are doing perpetuates detention instead of getting people out of these abusive conditions," said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe director at Human Rights Watch. "Fig-leaf efforts to improve conditions and get some people out of detention do not absolve the EU of responsibility for enabling the barbaric detention system in the first place."
EU leaders, she added, know how bad things are in Libya, but continue to provide political and material support to prop up a rotten system. "To avoid complicity in gross human rights abuses, Italy and its EU partners should rethink their strategy to truly press for fundamental reforms and ending automatic detention."
To prepare the report, HRW's researchers spoke with over 100 detained migrants and asylum seekers during their visits to the four Libyan detention centres. They spoke with eight unaccompanied children, and each centre's director and senior staff.