European Union countries are complicit in the abuse of migrants held in Libya, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday that accused the EU of turning a blind eye to allegedly brutal tactics of the Libyan coast guard and dangerous detention facilities.
The report was published not long after footage that caused a stir the world over was released showing African migrants being sold as slaves in a Libyan auction.
The human rights group also alleged that the Libyan coast guard accepted kickbacks from smugglers to let migrant boats leave for Europe. Amnesty said it had video and other documentary evidence that a boat donated by Italy was involved in an interception operation in which up to 50 people drowned.
The human rights organization's report, titled "Libya's dark web of collusion", details the manner in which European governments actively supported a complex web of abuse and exploitation of migrants and refugees by the Libyan coast guard, the country's detention facilities and different smugglers, all with the intention of blocking them from crossing Mediterranean.
"Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centers where they are subjected to systematic abuse," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe Director.
"European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses," Dalhuisen added. "By actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes."
Amnesty: thousands of migrants are trapped in Libya
Overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 1 million migrants in 2015, the EU has worked with Libya and its neighbors to cut off the main migration route from Africa to Europe. Its strategy has included training and equipping Libya's coast guard to stop boats trying to make the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing.
The moves have trapped an estimated 20,000 migrants in Libya, where detention facilities are overcrowded and unsanitary, Amnesty International said.
EU officials have rejected criticism of Europe's approach to curbing immigration and say the bloc's money has been channeled into Libya through United Nations agencies. Only about 150 of Libya's 3,000 coast guard members have received training sponsored by the bloc, the EU said.
The EU's border agency, Frontex, reported Monday that the number of migrants making it to Europe through the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy dropped by one-third during the first 11 months of the year, to around 116,400, compared to the same period in 2016. Most were Nigerians, Frontex said.
The group said it also reviewed video, photographs and documents showing that in at least one incident, the crew of a boat Italy donated to Libya's coast guard failed to deploy lifeboats for migrants it encountered.
While trying to climb up the high sides of the vessel, the Ras Jadir, many passengers fell into the water and about 50 drowned, Amnesty said. Recordings also showed rescued migrants being whipped on the coast guard ship, the rights group alleged.
It said some migrants onboard jumped into the water to try to reach rafts deployed by a non-governmental organization's rescue boat.
"European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely, the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused," Dalhuisen said.
Spokesman for Amnesty International's Israeli chapter Gil Naveh commented on the report, saying, "According to copious amounts of ever-mounting evidence, many of the migrants who arrived to Israel but caved in to enormous pressures and were 'willingly deported' back to Africa were forced to flee for their lives again, with many of them setting their sights on Europe, which they had hoped to reach through Libya."
"The atrocities described in the report are familiar to human rights organizations accustomed to assisting asylum seekers and migrants. The State of Israel must not be also complicit in these crimes by deporting asylum seekers and leaving them to face a precipitous future, which may now be reasonably assumed to include going through the sheer hell of Libya," Naveh exhorted.