'Complicit in tragedy': EU urged to end migrant returns to Libya

Oxfam says 5,300 people have died in the Mediterranean since Italy's EU-backed migration deal with Libya.

    Italy and Libya in February 2017 signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy [File: Reuters]
    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 European Union 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", Oxfam said in a statement on Friday. 

    With the support of the EU, Italy and Libya in February 2017 signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy.

    According to the deal, Italy and the EU were to provide support for Libyan coastguards while Tripoli would prevent people from 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 Mediterranean Sea, making it the deadliest sea in the world", Oxfam said. 

    The statement followed a joint letter by Oxfam and other aid organisations, which urged European governments to stop sending migrants back to Libya.

    In their open letter on Wednesday, 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. 

    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 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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies