A new report has accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea.
The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants.
Research by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group warned that the EU’s push to prevent boats leaving the Libyan coast – now the main departure point towards Europe – could fuel horrific abuses.
“The fate of people who are seeking international protection is effectively absent from the plans outlined by EU leaders to tackle the Central Mediterranean route,” its report concluded.
“With the ongoing violence and chaos in Libya, a country that lacks an asylum system and where the rule of law is absent, EU countries must accept people on their territory through orderly, legal processes that are viable alternatives to ruthless criminal networks.
“The EU and its member states should also ensure that their funding and actions in Libya do not result in or contribute to human rights abuses against refugees and migrants.”
Researchers gathered harrowing testimonies from asylum seekers who had managed to survive the crossing to Europe, which has claimed a record of more than 1,700 lives so far this year.
Among them was Ali, a 17-year-old boy from Gambia who was detained in what he believed was an official detention centre in Zawaiya.
He said UN workers brought food, clothes shoes and other supplies, which were then sold for profit by guards who gave detainees only one portion of bread and a handful of pasta each day.
“The Arab people working in the prison, if someone is sick, they finish them off,” Ali told Refugees International.
“They beat a boy, he vomited blood. I saw it in front of my eyes.”
When another man died after a severe beating, the teenager and other migrants were ordered to bury his body themselves in a shallow grave outside.
During his detention the “boss” of the prison also forced people into to build a house, which Ali and four others did – unpaid – until they were allowed to leave detention and attempt the journey to Europe.
It is one of numerous accounts of forced labour in Libya, where the International Organisation of Migration warned people were being openly traded in “slave markets”.
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