Amnesty Urges EU to Stop Returning Migrants to Libya

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On Monday, Amnesty International urged the European Union to reverse its migration policy on Libya. It described the approach as helping return migrants to “hellish” conditions in the North African country.

In a statement, the international organization said that more than 82,000 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya. This has been happening for the past five years, since the EU began its cooperation with Libyan authorities to block migrants from reaching European shores, according to the AFP.

“Many of those who have been returned to Libya — including women and children — are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape, and extortion,” the group said. Other migrants were “forcibly disappeared.”

“EU leaders’ cooperation with Libyan authorities is keeping desperate people trapped in unimaginable horrors in Libya,” said Matteo de Bellis, a migration researcher at Amnesty. “It is high time to put an end to this callous approach.”

Libya has been suffering insecurity and chaos since the fall of its leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. This has made it the preferred point of departure for migrants who want to cross to European shores.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation, and smuggled migrants through the country’s porous borders with six nations. They pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages through the perilous Mediterranean sea.

In recent years, the EU accelerated efforts to stem the flow of migrants through Libya. Some €455 million Euros ($516 million) have been earmarked for Libya since 2015, through the EU’s Trust Fund for Africa. Substantial amounts of which have gone to finance migration and border management.

This money, much of it funnelled through Italy, has been used to train staff and refurbish boats for Libyan authorities. The Libyan Coast Guard also received satellite phones, uniforms, and will get three new patrol vessels in the next two years.

UN-commissioned investigators revealed in October that abuse and ill-treatment of migrants at sea, in detention centers, and at the hands of traffickers in Libya amount to crimes against humanity.

That has added to growing criticism of Europe’s migration policies. At least three requests have been filed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), demanding that Libyan and European officials, as well as traffickers, militiamen, and others be investigated for crimes against humanity.

Amnesty said Libya’s current government has continued to facilitate “further abuses and entrench impunity.” It cited last month’s appointment of Mohamed Al-Khoja, a militia leader implicated in abuses against migrants, to Head the Department for Combating Irregular Migration, which oversees the detention centers.

De Bellis called for the EU and its member states to stop the current approach, and instead focus on “opening urgently needed legal pathways for the thousands trapped in Libya in need of international protection.”