EU turning blind eye to horrors endured by migrants in Libya, UN says | World news

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The EU policy of helping Libyan authorities to intercept people trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to prisons is “inhuman”, the UN has said.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity,” the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a statement issued on Tuesday. “The European Union’s policy of assisting the Libyan coastguard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean [is] inhuman.”

Chaos-ridden Libya has long been a major transit hub for people trying to reach Europe. Many have fallen prey to serious abuse in the country at the hands of traffickers and others.

Guide

What happened after the Libyan revolution?

Muammar Gaddafi was ousted as president in 2011 after more than 40 years in power. But deep division between his supporters and adversaries persisted. An internationally recognised National Transitional Council took over, but quickly succumbed to schism, particularly between east and west.

How did things get so chaotic?

The transitional authorities found it impossible to extend their writ across the whole country, which was splintering into myriad factions: former regime loyalists, revolutionary brigades, local militia, Islamists, old army units, tribes, people trafficking gangs.

What about elections?

A General National Congress was elected in 2012 and established itself in Tripoli. But when a national parliament was elected in 2014, the GNC refused to accept the result; the new body had to install itself in the eastern city of Tobruk. Libya now effectively had two governments – the former buttressed by Islamist militias in its Tripoli stronghold, the latter supported by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade army colonel now head of the armed forces.

What about the international community?

Libya has become too unsafe for diplomats and most aid workers. The UN pulled its staff out in 2014 and foreign embassies followed suit. Tripoli international airport is largely destroyed by fighting.

Where has this left Libya?

The conflict has killed 5,000, ruined the economy, driven half a million from their homes and trapped hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to get north to Europe in a nightmarish network of brutal camps. Diplomatic attempts at reconciliation have proven fruitless thus far.

Hussein warned that “the detention system for migrants in Libya is broken beyond repair”, adding: “The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, and pretend that the situation can be remedied only by improving conditions in detention.”

According to Libya’s Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), 19,900 people were being held in facilities under its control in early November, up from about 7,000 in mid-September.

The increase came after authorities detained thousands of people previously held by smugglers in Libya’s trafficking hub Sabratha, west of Tripoli.

Hussein said UN staff members had visited four DCIM facilities earlier this month and were “shocked” by what they saw. There were “thousands of emaciated and traumatised men, women and children piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities, and stripped of their human dignity,” he said.

People including children described horrific beatings by guards at detention centres, while many women said they faced rape and other sexual violence at the hands of smugglers and guards.

One woman told UN staff she was gang-raped by three men, including a DCIM guard, while another woman said four armed men had gang-raped her during her journey, when she was pregnant.

“I bled profusely, and I think I lost the baby. I haven’t seen a doctor yet,” she said.

The UN urged Libyan authorities to take concrete steps to halt violations and abuses in the detention centres, and to stop detaining migrants.

“The increasing interventions of the EU and its member states have done nothing so far to reduce the level of abuses suffered by migrants,” Hussein said, adding that instead there appeared to be a “fast deterioration in their situation in Libya”.

Zeid’s comments came after ministers from 13 European and African countries pledged on Monday to act to ease the crisis around the Mediterranean, especially to help improve conditions for people held in Libya.

At a meeting in Bern, Switzerland, of the contact group on the crisis along the central Mediterranean migration route, the ministers also reiterated a pledge to strengthen Libya’s coastguard.

Italy, with the support of the EU, has since the summer been training the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats, as part of a controversial deal that has resulted in migrant arrivals to Italy falling by nearly 70% since July.

Reacting to Hussein’s charges, an EU spokesperson said Brussels was funding UN agencies on the ground in Libya that were working to protect people.

“We believe that the detention centres in Libya must be closed. The situation in these camps is unacceptable,” the spokesperson said in a statement sent to the news agency AFP.

The EU wanted rescued people to be brought to “reception centres that meet international humanitarian standards”, the spokesman said, while at the same time improving the Libyan coastguard’s capacity to prevent deaths at sea.

But the UN human rights office criticised European countries for ignoring warnings that the deal with Libya could condemn more people to detention, exposing them to torture, rape, forced labour and extortion.

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings, in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatised people from reaching Europe’s shores,” Hussein said.



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