The EU is facing renewed accusations of funding human rights abuses in Libya. With growing reports of torture, extortion, slavery and murder surfacing from the North African country, migrants are joining the voices of those calling for lasting change.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 13,000 migrants have been intercepted and brought back to detention in Libya while trying to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2022. Earlier in August, the Human Rights Watch NGO announced that in total more than 32,450 people had officially been intercepted by Libyan authorities in all of 2021, and "hauled back to arbitrary detention and abuse."
The charity accused Frontex, the European Union border agency, of helping Libya's coast guard using drones to relay information designed to facilitate such interceptions and returns despite "overwhelming evidence of torture and exploitation of migrants and refugees" back in Libya.
Reports of such severe abuse are also reflected in a report published by the United Nations in October last year, which details instances of "murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment (and) rape" against migrants detained in Libya. The document said that these and other such abuses may actually amount to crimes against humanity.
Libyan authorities meanwhile deny the mounting reports saying that migrants are abused and tortured. A migration official told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency that these "arrests are carried out according to the rules in place."
Those rules, however, can be as arbitrary as some of the detention patterns witnessed in Libya; irregular migrants are often rounded up and placed in detention by armed forces.
EU members accused of abandoning migrants
There are countless other reports from NGOs and media organizations alike detailing brutal human rights abuse at migrant detention centers in the war-ravaged country. However, as part of its overall strategy to control irregular forms of migration, the EU continues to fund Libya's coast guard.
In addition to facing accusations of providing financial support, the EU also has to deal with claims saying member states are not doing enough to save lives: Earlier this month, Alarm Phone, an organization which tries to raise awareness about migrants in distress at sea and on land, accused the government Malta of failing to rescue migrants in its search and rescue zone, "despite their obligations to do so" under international law.
"Alarm Phone has witnessed this non-assistance policy in action innumerable times," the group said, adding that Malta was "abandoning boats at risk of capsizing" in Mediterranean waters.
'Stop migration altogether'
On the ground in Libya, migrants are clear in their opinions about the way they are handled. 26-year-old Hussein, a migrant from Sudan stuck in the capital, Tripoli, told AFP that "there are no human rights in Libya."
He tried to reach Europe on an overnight boat crossing in 2017 before being caught by the coast guard and sent back. He then reportedly was detained for a day before escaping.
"Instead of European countries funding Libya to stop migration," Hussein believes that the African countries from where people migrant need to "look after their people" better and do more to discourage them from leaving.
Hanging on to hope
Hussein's case is far from being an isolated tale of disappointment and duress. Many migrants suffer far worse fates than the 26-year-old.
A 34-year-old Nigerian migrant by the name Godwin told AFP that he was intercepted by a Libyan patrol boat after paying €1,100 to people smugglers to get him across the Mediterranean to Italy on an overcrowded boat.
"I just wanted to go to Europe and have a good life," Godwin explained, adding that he considered jumping into the sea in a bid to escape Libyan authorities.
But he was caught and returned to Libya, where he was taken to detention. He was only released after his family paid a €550 ransom. Godwin did not elaborate on what experiences he had during his detention, nor did he specify whether he witnessed any abuse while being extorted. He did, however, accuse Libya's EU-backed authorities of committing acts of "extreme abuse" against captured migrants.
Nevertheless, he says he still wants to save up money to try to get to Europe: "Now I'm just in Libya, suffering, there is no work, no food to eat, nothing," he told AFP.
"I'm tired of living this kind of life I'm living here."