MSF accuses EU of fuelling migrant abuses in Libya

Migrants in a detention centre before being voluntarily returned to their countries of origin. Tripoli, 29 August. [Hani Amara/REUTERS]

EU aid to Libya to stop migrants entering Europe is fuelling a Libyan detention network that thrives on kidnapping, torture and extortion, a leading medical charity charged yesterday (7 September).

Joanne Liu, the president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), published an open letter describing “the horrific situation” for refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres she visited last week.

Libya’s detention of migrants “must be named for what it is: a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion”, Liu wrote in the letter addressing European governments.

Italy and the European Union have been financing, training and providing other aid to Libya’s coastguard to stop smugglers from taking migrants and refugees in flimsy boats across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Migrants are then sent to detention centres.

The number of migrant arrivals in Italy in July was down dramatically on the same month last year, suggesting efforts to train up and better equip the North African country’s coastguard could already be having an impact.

Italy applauds Tripoli's decision to keep NGO ships far away from Libyan coasts

The Italian government yesterday (13 August) welcomed Libya’s decision to bar foreign vessels from a stretch of water off its coast, a move that has prompted almost all international charities to halt migrant search and rescue operations in the area.

But Liu said describing fewer migrant departures as a success in preventing drownings and smashing smuggler networks amounts to “pure hypocrisy” or worse, “a cynical complicity” in what is happening.

In the detention centres, migrants “are packed into dark, filthy rooms with no ventilation”, she said.

Detainees told MSF how men are forced to run naked in the courtyard until they collapse from exhaustion, while women are raped and made to call family back home for money to free them.

“All the people I met had tears in their eyes, asking again and again to get out,” Liu said.

She said the migrants instead need access to protection, asylum, increased voluntary repatriation procedures as well as safe passage across borders.

Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for the EU’s diplomatic service, told reporters that Brussels is trying to tackle the abuses.

“We are completely aware of the unacceptable, often scandalous, even inhumane conditions in which migrants are treated in reception camps in Libya,” Ray said.

“We are trying to support the organisations which have access to these camps so that they can help the migrants.”

She said more than 7,000 people have been helped to return voluntarily to their home countries while the EU is looking to open up “legal avenues” for those deemed to need international protection.

Migrant rescue NGO accuses the EU of 'hiding the dirt' under the Mediterranean

Speaking about the refugee crisis and the Lybian and Syrian conflicts, Óscar Camps, director of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, accused the EU of “hiding the dirt under the carpet” of international waters in the Mediterranean sea. EURACTIV Spain reports.