The United Nations’ human rights commissioner has condemned as “inhuman” the European Union’s policy of intercepting migrants in the Mediterranean and returning them to Libya.
In a statement issued from Geneva , Zeid Raad Al Hussein said African migrants were enduring horrific conditions in Libyan detention facilities. He called it an outrage to the conscience of humanity.
According to figures from the government in Tripoli, almost 20,000 migrants are being held in Libya. Last month detainees told UN investigators they were subjected to beatings and sexual violence.
“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “What was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic.
“The detention system for migrants in Libya is broken beyond repair,” said Zeid. “Only alternatives to detention can save migrants’ lives and physical security, preserve their dignity and protect them from further atrocities.
“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,” he said, calling for the creation of domestic legal measures and the decriminalisation of irregular migration to ensure the protection of migrants’ human rights.
According to Libya’s Department of Combatting 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 when authorities detained thousands of migrants following armed clashes in Sabratha, a smuggling and trafficking hub, about 80 kilometres west of Tripoli.
The EU and Italy are providing assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean, including in international waters, despite concerns raised by human rights groups that this would condemn more migrants to arbitrary and indefinite detention and expose them to torture, rape, forced labour, exploitation and extortion. Those detained have no possibility to challenge the legality of their detention, and no access to legal aid.