By Daniel Hurley
According to a recently published 70-page report by Human Rights Watch, European Union policies have fueled a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. The report, “No Escape from Hell: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya,” documents instances of severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of adequate healthcare in Libyan detention centers.  It also calls out the EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard, which it claims has led to the enhancement of the Coast Guard’s capacity to intercept migrant boats leaving Libya, and thus leading to the automatic, arbitrary detention of asylum seekers without judicial review.
Judith Sunderland, associate Europe director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disdain for the EU’s conduct, stating that migrants and asylum seekers detained in Libya “are trapped in a nightmare, and what EU governments are doing perpetuates detention instead of getting people out of these abusive conditions.” In a letter to Human Rights Watch, the European Commission indicated that its dialogue with Libyan authorities is focused on respect for migrants, and is engaged with Libya for humanitarian reasons.
Visiting multiple detention centers throughout Libya in July 2018, Human Rights Watch investigators spoke with over 100 detained migrants and asylum seekers, senior officials of Libya’s Coast Guard, and representatives of international organizations and diplomats. An 18-year-old from Darfur named Abdul, who was one of the asylum seekers contacted, was captured by Libyan authorities in May 2018. He was subsequently detained in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the al-Karareem detention center.
While the EU migration commissioner, Dimitri Avramopoulos, recently claimed that he is aware of the “appalling and degrading conditions in which some migrants are held in Libya, since 2016 the EU and certain member states have provided millions of euros to enhance the Libyan Coast Guard’s ability to intercept migrant boats leaving Libya.  Italy, in particular, has led the effort in providing assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard in order to decrease the number of migrants landing on its shores.
According to Humans Rights Watch, the EU and Italy’s enabling of Libyan authorities to capture migrants and return them to inhuman treatment in Libya can constitute assisting in the commission of gross human rights violations. To avoid being subjected to accusations of human rights abuses, Sunderland said further that “Italy and its EU partners should rethink their strategy to truly press for fundamental reforms and ending automatic detention.”
In its “Libya’s Migrant Report” for September to October 2018, the International Organization for Migration identified at least 670,920 migrants present Libya, with migrants residing in all 100 municipalities.  The top nationalities of identified migrants were Nigerian, Egyptian, Chadian, and Sudanese, which together accounts for close to 69% of Libya’s migrant population. Fleeing internal conflict, economic hardship, ethnic and religious discrimination, and political oppression, Libya serves a main departure point for migrants as they seek asylum in Europe.
Daniel Hurley is a senior at The College of New Jersey, where he studies Political Science. His areas of interest are U.S.-Middle East diplomacy, human security, and conflict resolution, and he is the Journal’s Correspondent for Middle East and North African Affairs.
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