EU’s support of migrant returns from Mediterranean to Libya results in abusive detention

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Evidence for reckless behavior of Libyan Coast Guards. (Image: Sea-Watch)

A recently released research report by Amnesty International documents how European states and institutions provide material support and pursue migration policies that enable Libyan coastguards to intercept migrants and refugees who are crossing the Mediterranean Sea fleeing from their country in search of a better and safer life. The EU is and coastguards are calling them ‘rescue missions’, however, the report shows that, after being intercepted at sea, these men, women, and children are being transferred to detention centers in Libya where they are being subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses such as torture and other ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence, indefinite arbitrary detention in cruel and inhuman conditions, and forced labor. The coast guards’ behavior has often been described as negligent and abusive and therefore ‘accidents’ at sea with fatal outcome often occur. European navies and aircrafts repeatedly turn a blind eye to refugees and migrants in distress at sea, not offering any assistance before the Libyan coast guards’ arrival. Despite these on-going abusive practices being well-documented, the cooperation between Europe and Libya on border control and return policy continues to exist.

Even more astonishing, is that the Libya Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), a department of the interior ministry, while being fully aware of the ongoing abuses, integrated two new detention centers under its structure, where detainees have again been confronted with horrifying human rights violations. Even though the DCIM has vowed to close all centers rife with abuse, they still regularly legitimize and integrate informal sites of captivity run by non-DCIM militias, where every time one of these detention centers newly opens or re-opens, similar patterns of violence and forced disappearances seem to be occurring. The report holds witnesses of people held in one of these centers, Al-Mahabi, where they faced torture and other ill-treatment, cruel and inhumane conditions, extortion, forced labor, humiliating and violent strip-searches, forced sex in exchange of essentials like food and clean water and unlawful use of lethal force. The same patterns of human rights violations have not only been documented here, but in seven different DCIM centers in Lybia, which makes it clear the entire migration detention network in Lybia is deeply infected with it.

This incomprehensible behavior by the Libyan government (DCIM) on top of the ongoing complicity of the European Institutions to enable and sponsor the coastguards to intercept people at sea seem to legitimize these horrific violations and abuses as their arbitrary detentions directly follow these interceptions. Therefore, it is high time that the European Union realizes what the consequences of their material and political support to Libyan coastguards are, suspend their cooperation on migration and border control with Libya and instead look for sustainable solutions offering protection to the thousands of migrants trapped in this extremely precarious situation.

Source: Report: ‘No one will look for you’ Forcibly returned from sea to abusive detention in Libya, Amnesty International 2021.

Florence Van den Bergh

Florence Van den Bergh

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