European countries, especially Italy, complicit in torture of migrants, says AI

A Libyan Coastguardsman counting the number of migrants who had just been intercepted at sea on their way to Italy. Zawiya Jun 6, 2016. © TAHA JAWASHI. Source: Amnesty Int’l

European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration, says Amnesty International.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) identified 416,556 migrants in Libya, more than 60% of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa. Thirty-two percent are from other North African countries while 7% are from Asia and the Middle East.

These migrants are held in detention centres run by the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), in appalling, inhuman conditions.

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain,” says John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“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 abuses.”

According to a report published by AI on Tuesday, European countries, “particularly Italy” have pursued and supported several polices aimed at making it more difficult for migrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

“Firstly, they have committed to providing technical support and assistance to the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), which runs the detention centres where refugees and migrants are arbitrarily and indefinitely held and routinely exposed to serious human rights violations, including torture.

“Secondly, they have enabled the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea, by providing them with training, equipment, including boats, and technical and other assistance.

“Thirdly, they have struck deals with Libyan local authorities and the leaders of tribes and armed groups – to encourage them to stop the smuggling of people and to increase border controls in the south of the country,” the report read in part.

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Libyan coastguard, aboard of boat donated by Italy, fails to deploy its rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) to help migrants and refugees. Fifty people are estimated to have died at sea as a result of this interception at sea. Only five bodies were retrieved. 6 November 2017 © L Hoffman/Sea Watch. Source: Amnesty Int’l

Describing further how the Europe-sponsored slavery runs in Libya, the AI report stated: “Refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are sent to DCIM detention centres where they endure horrific treatment. Up to 20,000 people currently remain contained in these overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres.

“Migrants and refugees interviewed by Amnesty International described abuse they had been subjected to or they had witnessed, including arbitrary detention, torture, forced labour, extortion, and unlawful killings, at the hands of the authorities, traffickers, armed groups and militias alike.

“Dozens of migrants and refugees interviewed described the soul-destroying cycle of exploitation to which collusion between guards, smugglers and the Libyan Coast Guard consigns them. Guards at the detention centres torture them to extort money.

“If they are able to pay they are released. They can also be passed onto smugglers who can secure their departure from Libya in cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard.

“So far in 2017, 19,452 people have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, taken back to Libya and immediately transferred to detention centres where torture is rife.”

The report stated that between 2016 and 2017, the Libyan Coast Guard has increased its capacity, due mainly to support from EU member states.

Libyan Coast Guard officials are known to operate in collusion with smuggling networks and have used threats and violence against refugees and migrants on board boats in distress.

“One immediate way to improve the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in DCIM centres would be for the Libyan authorities to formally recognise UNHCR’s mandate, sign the Refugee Convention and adopt an asylum law,”  said AI’s John Dalhuisen. “The automatic detention of migrants must also stop as that is when the worst abuses occur.”

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