Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Migrants face 'slavery, torture and death' in Libya

  • Migrants arriving in Sicily on an MSF ship. "Thousands face kidnap, slavery, torture and sexual violence in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea," Oxfam said. (Photo: Alessandro Rota/Oxfam)

The UN has backed Italy's naval mission in Libyan waters to curb human trafficking, just as Oxfam said in a report that the effort creates a "vicious cycle" of abuse and death for migrants.

Ghassan Salame, the UN special envoy to Libya, said on Tuesday (8 August) that "cooperation and transparency between Italy and Libya is the most constructive way" to stop smugglers from taking people on small boats to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"We are on the right track in this sector, addressing a challenge that involves everyone," he added, after meeting Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano in Rome.

Italy sent two ships to Libya last week, to help the Libyan coastguard in patrolling the sea.

In a joint press conference, Alfano pointed out that the number of migrants was 50 percent lower in July this year, compared to last year in July.

"Now that we have an opportunity to reduce the fluxes and organise refugee camps in Libya," he said.

In a report published on Wednesday, Oxfam, an NGO, said that the plan is "the latest attempt to keep people from reaching Europe."

It said that "bringing them back to Libyan shores creates a vicious cycle where desperate people try repeatedly to escape abuse and death, and European forces prevent them from doing so."

The report, written by Oxfam and two Italian NGOs, MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights) and Borderline Sicilia, documents abuses suffered by migrants who came to Libya from other African countries.

"Thousands of refugees and migrants face kidnap, slavery, torture and sexual violence in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy - if they are not killed first," they said.

The three organisations gathered 258 testimonies of migrants who arrived in Sicily after crossing the sea from Libya and were asked about the conditions in Libya.

'Damning indictment'

In one sample of 158 migrants, all but one woman interviewed had suffered sexual violence, 84 percent said they had suffered inhuman or degrading treatment, extreme violence or torture, 74 percent said they had witnessed the murder and/or torture of a travelling companion, and 80 percent said they had been denied food and water during their stay.

“These testimonies paint a horrifying picture of the lives of refugees and other migrants in Libya," Roberto Barbieri, the executive director of Oxfam Italy, said in a statement.

"They are a damning indictment of Europe’s efforts to keep people from escaping violence, slavery and even death."

Oxfam calls on EU leaders to "refrain from signing agreements that try to stop people in danger from leaving Libya by sea," and to "create more safe routes for migrants."

"Seasonal labour visas and humanitarian visas that protect refugees from persecution are examples of potential solutions," the NGO said.

The report also pointed out that NGOs are "worried" that a code of conduct put in place for them by the Italian government, with the EU's support, will "affect their humanitarian mandate and ability to focus on saving lives."

The code, which, among other things, prevents NGOs from entering Libyan waters or transferring people from one boat to another, is presented as a tool to deter smugglers from putting people on small boats, knowing that NGOs will rescue them.

It has been criticised by the UN children agency, Unicef, and NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have refused to sign.

Absolute priority

In its report, Oxfam argues that "the EU is meant to be a bastion of human rights" and that "EU member states should ensure that migrants arrive safely in Europe where they can have access to a fair and transparent process for claiming asylum."

In his meeting with UN envoy Salame, Italian minister Alfano also asked the international body to support Italian efforts to stabilise the political situation in Libya.

Alfano said "negotiation formats in Libya must be reduced to one," and that "the UN needs to take the leadership."

The demand comes two weeks after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, held a meeting with the two rival Libyan political leaders, Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, to which no Italian representatives were invited.

"Political instability in Libya is not a second-tier match - it is an absolute priority," Alfano insisted.

Italy seizes NGO boat and starts Libyan mission

Italian authorities impounded a German NGO's rescue boat as a "preventive" measure, and has moved its boats to Libyan waters to help the local coastguard in turning back migrant boats.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds
  2. EU ups US imports in beef deal
  3. Unicef: UK among 'least family-friendly' in Europe
  4. Czech PM: No joint 'V4' candidate in commission race
  5. Johnson tops first round to replace May, three eliminated
  6. Bratislava will host new European Labour Authority
  7. Juncker cautions against further climate goals
  8. Study: Counterfeit medicine is a 'growing threat' in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  2. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  3. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  4. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower
  5. Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue
  6. Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC
  7. Europe's oil supplies 'at risk' after tanker attacks
  8. EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us