DAMASCUS, SYRIA (4:00 A.M) – The United Nations has condemned the European Union’s policy of helping the Libyan regime intercept refugees on the Mediterranean and return them to “horrific prisons in Libya.
“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity (…) The European Union’s policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean (is) inhumane,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated on Tuesday.
Libya has been riddled with war and sectarian violence for years, ever since a 2011 Western-led military intervention brought down the so-called Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and resulted in the assassination of its leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.
This instability has led to a flourishing of human trafficking organisations that prey on the Sub-Saharan refugees that use Libya as a transit hub towards Europe. Many migrants have fallen victim to serious abuse, and in some cases even to slavery rings.
The fact that the EU cooperates with the Libyan regime in deporting and imprisoning refugees on Libyan soil has thus been met with condemnation by the United Nations, with Al Hussein stating that “the detention system for migrants in Libya is broken beyond repair.”
The UN condemnation comes a day after a meeting of ministers from several European and African ministers in the Swiss capital of Bern aimed at easing the Mediterranean refugee crisis. During the meeting, the ministers vowed to improve conditions for refugees held in Libya, as well as to increase support for the Libyan coast guard.
However, the United Nations has criticised these European countries for ignoring warnings that the deal could condemn more migrants to detention, torture, rape, forced labor and extortion.
“The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, and pretend that the situation can be remedied only by improving conditions in detention,” Al Hussein stated.
The UN human rights chief instead called for the decriminalization of irregular migration, stating that “only alternatives to detention can save migrants’ lives and physical security, preserve their dignity and protect them from further atrocities”.