Amnesty calls on EU to reconsider Libya cooperation over migrant abuse

The rights group called on the European Union to make support for Libya's coast guard conditional upon ending longstanding abuse of migrants.

al-monitor Dozens of migrants from Egypt, Morocco, Somalia and Sierra Leone are assisted by a team of aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms after spending more than 20 hours at sea while fleeing Libya on board a precarious boat in international waters, in the Central Mediterranean sea, on Sept. 08, 2020. Photo by RICARDO GARCIA VILANOVA/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 24, 2020

Amnesty International called on the European Union to reconsider its cooperation with Libyan authorities after thousands of migrants en route to Europe this year were intercepted and subjected to a litany of abuses in the war-ravaged country. 

In a report published Thursday, the London-based rights group urged the EU to make any further support to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) conditional on ending “long-standing patterns of abuse against refugees and migrants, including by state officials and affiliated militias.” 

The GNA is one of two rival administrations vying for control of the North African country. The UN-backed government is opposed by Khalifa Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army, which has the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. 

Since the toppling of longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has become a main transit country for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The Mediterranean Sea route is a perilous journey, but thousands of migrants risk it every year for the chance of a better life in Europe. 

Italy — the first destination for most migrants fleeing Libya — and other EU member states have worked with the Libyan Coast Guard since 2016 to intercept some 60,000 Europe-bound migrants. Between January and mid-September 2020, roughly 8,500 people were returned to Libya, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The United Nations, human rights organizations and journalists have warned that migrants forcibly transferred back to Libya routinely fall prey to traffickers or are abused inside government-affiliated detention centers. Thousands of migrants are subject to forced disappearance and sent to unofficial detention centers, including the so-called Tobacco Factory in the capital of Tripoli, Amnesty said. 

“Some are tortured or raped until their families pay ransoms to secure their release,” the report said. “Others die in custody as a result of violence, torture, starvation or medical neglect.”

“Instead of being protected, they are met with a catalogue of appalling human rights abuses,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse, showing a callous disregard for people’s lives and dignity.” 

In August, at least 45 migrants drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya. The UN estimates more than 300 people have died attempting the central Mediterranean crossing since the beginning of this year.

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