EU governments complicit in migrant torture in Libya, says Amnesty

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A picture taken on June 27, 2017 shows Libyan coast guardsmen standing in a dinghy carrying illegal immigrants during a rescue operation of 147 people who were attempting to reach EuropeImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Migrant boats are regularly intercepted by the Libyan coastguard

European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of refugees and migrants in Libya, Amnesty International has alleged.

In an effort to stem migration, the EU is actively supporting a "system of abuse and exploitation" on Libyan shores, the group said in a report.

EU funds are going to authorities working with militias and people smugglers, the report says.

The EU said its work to help migrants made things better, not worse.

It has provided ships, training and funding to the Libyan coastguard.

Libya is the main thoroughfare for migrants trying to reach Europe. Arrivals in Italy - the main destination for boat crossings - fell sharply following the provision of EU funds to the Libyan coastguard.

Amnesty says the coastguard is working with criminal gangs and people smugglers who are guilty of a range of abuses, with the knowledge of EU officials.

It alleges that the drive to stem migration has resulted in "mass, arbitrary and indefinite detention" of refugees and migrants.

Media caption,

Detainee Hennessy: "I feel like a dead person"

Refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are sent to detention centres run by Libya's general directorate for combating illegal migration (DCIM).

Amnesty said about 20,000 people were currently detained at these centres, and it had testimony showing detainees were subject to "torture, forced labour, extortion, and unlawful killings" at the hands of authorities, traffickers, and militias.

"Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres where they are subjected to systematic abuse," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe Director.

"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."

Media caption,

Inside a Libyan migrant detention camp

Speaking to Amnesty, one man from the Gambia who was detained for three months said he was starved and beaten.

"They beat me with a rubber hose, because they want money to release me. They call the family while beating [you] so the family send money," he said.

The human rights group said it believed it had enough evidence to take EU governments to court.

"The situation is not bad because of the European Union, it is slightly better because of the European Union, " an EU spokesperson said in response to Amnesty's report.

"We share the same objective as Amnesty: saving lives. But we would also point out that most of the actions called for are in fact already being carried out."

The EU says it has provided funding to the UN's migration agency (IOM) for the voluntary repatriation of some 15,000 migrants to their home countries from Libya.