This picture shows migrants waiting to be rescued off the coast of Libya last week as rescuers throw life jackets at them them and urge them to stay calm (ANSA/AP Photo/Valerio Niscolosi)
This picture shows migrants waiting to be rescued off the coast of Libya last week as rescuers throw life jackets at them them and urge them to stay calm (ANSA/AP Photo/Valerio Niscolosi)

Amnesty International has accused Italy and the EU of being "complicit" with Libya by strengthening the North African country's coast guard. The organization said the reason was to prevent migrants from leaving and to intercept migrants and refugees at sea to take them back to the country, exposing them to violence and human rights violations.

The human rights organization made such claims in a new report called 'Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Europe fails refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean.'

Surge in interceptions leads to 'dramatic rise' in those taken back to Libya

''A surge in interceptions by the EU-supported Libyan coast guard has resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of people returned to Libya and arbitrarily held in detention centers run by the General Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) within the interior ministry," Amnesty said. ''According to DCIM, the number of detainees has more than doubled in recent months, from around 4,400 in March to more than 10,000 - including around 2,000 women and children - at the end of July.Virtually all those in these centers have been intercepted at sea and returned by the Libyan coast guard, who are equipped, trained and supported by European governments.'' 

The EU and Italy continue to pursue this policy disregarding the fate of those taken back to Libya, where violence is rife, or the Libyan coast guard's track-record of human rights violations and its incapacity to ensure effective and timely rescues in international waters,'' Amnesty said. Amnesty report says Italy, Malta treat NGOs with 'hostility' In the report, Amnesty International also accuses Italy and Malta of treating NGOs in an increasingly ''hostile'' way with a consequent depletion of vital assets devoted to rescue missions, it said.

The increasingly hostile treatment by Italian and Maltese authorities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to saving lives at sea is depleting the central Mediterranean of vital rescue assets.". NGOs, which in 2017 and until May 2018 had carried out about 40 percent of rescues, now face ''slander, intimidation and court cases,'' the organization said. 

721 people died along central Med route in June, July 

Meanwhile in June and July 2018, as people continued to embark on unsafe boats, ''deaths of refugees and migrants at sea surged to a combined total of over 721 along the central Mediterranean route - with 564 people found dead or reported missing in June and 157 in July,'' Amnesty said.''In only two days, between 19 and 20 June, approximately 220 people reportedly drowned in three separate incidents off the coasts of Libya'', the report noted.'' In the first seven months of 2018, a total of 1,111 people were reported dead or missing along the central Mediterranean route. ''The death rate among those attempting the crossing from Libya has surged to 1 in 16 in the period June-July, four times higher than the rate recorded in the first five months of the year, which was 1 in 64.''

This is in stark contrast with the overall decrease in the number of arrivals to Italy, the report noted. ''With 18,645 people who arrived in Italy by the end of July 2018, this was the lowest number of arrivals registered in the last five years, a decrease of about 80 percent in comparison to the same period in 2017 and 2016''.Amnesty said ''some deaths at sea along this perilous route are unavoidable, as long as smugglers force people to travel in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, with no food, water, safety equipment, or sufficient fuel on board. The recent surge in deaths at sea, however, cannot be dismissed as an inescapable misfortune."

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