‘Complicit in tragedy’: EU urged to end migrant returns to Libya

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Italy and Libya in February 2017 signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy [File: Reuters]

Oxfam and 43 other organisations have accused EU governments of being complicit in the "tragedy" of migrants crossing from Libya to Italy, saying more than 5,300 people had died in the Mediterranean in the past two years.

Two years after Italy's EU-backed migration deal with Libya, "people are now in even more danger at sea and are being taken back by the Libyan coastguard to face human rights abuses in Libya", the NGOs said on Friday.

With the support of the European Union, Italy and Libya in February 2017 signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy, with Rome and the EU to provide support for Libyan coastguards while Tripoli would prevent people leaving its shores for Europe.

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But in the ensuing two years, "more than 4,000 people have drowned in the Central Mediterranean alone, and more than 5,300 in all corners of the Mediterannean Sea, making it the deadliest sea in the world", the groups said.

The NGOs said some EU countries have deliberately forced many of the organisations conducting search and rescue operations to stop their work, by preventing rescue ships from leaving their ports.

In January last year, there were five organisations conducting search and rescue missions, but now there is only one, the groups said.

The statement followed a joint letter by the organisations which urged European governments to stop sending migrants back to Libya.

People who are rescued by the Libyan coastguard are returned to Libya, where they were "likely to be placed in arbitrary detention, abused, tortured or sold into slavery", the open letter on Wednesday said.

About 15,000 people were returned to Libya in 2018, according to the UN refugee agency.

A 28-year old man from Eritrea, who was detained and imprisoned by various gangs in Libya for a year and a half, told Oxfam that conditions for migrants in the north African country were "terrible".

"Many [migrants] died and were buried like animals. The women were raped in front of us," he said.

"We were beaten every day by prison guards selected from the group of migrants… They beat us and made us call our family to ask them to send us money," he added.

Is the rate of migrant deaths at sea rising?

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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