United Nations rights chief: European Union support of Libyan coast guard "inhuman"

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein decried "unimaginable horrors" faced by 19,900 migrants now detained in the North African country, more than 2½ times the number in mid-September.

The EU and Italy are providing assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats in the Mediterranean, including in global waters, despite concerns raised by human rights groups that this will condemn more migrants to arbitrary and indefinite detention where they are at risk of abuse.

Chaos-ridden Libya has always been a major transit hub for migrants trying to reach Europe, and many of them have fallen prey to serious abuse there at the hands of traffickers and others.

Some 20,000 people are now being held in facilities controlled by Tripoli's migration department, up from 7,000 in September, the United Nations said in a statement.

Migrants gather at a detention centre in Gharyan, Libya on October 12.

His Office has urged the Libyan authorities to stamp out human rights violations in centres under their control, while also calling on the global community not to turn a blind eye to the "unimaginable horrors" endured by migrants in Libya.

Zeid said staff members had visited four DCIM facilities earlier this month and were "shocked" by what they saw.

"Only alternatives to detention can save migrants' lives and physical security, preserve their dignity and protect them from further atrocities", he said. "I haven't seen a doctor yet", she said.

He urged Libyan authorities to actively stamp out human rights violations in government-controlled centres, to open all migrant centres in the country, free those who detained and bring to justice individuals suspected of committing crimes against migrants.

But Zeid, who has criticized European Union actions in Libya before, stressed that the agreements have not improved migrants' living conditions or protected them from abuse.

The EU anti-trafficking mission Sophia has helped train Tripoli's coast guard, while Italy has supplied it with four patrol boats.

At a meeting in Bern of the contact group on the crisis along the Central Mediterranean migration route, the ministers also reiterated a pledge to strengthen Libya's coast guard. "The situation in these camps is unacceptable", the spokesperson said in a statement sent to AFP.

So far in 2017, the Libyans have intercepted nearly 20,000 migrants at sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

But it was Italy that struck a deal with the UN-backed Tripoli in February, which was endorsed by the whole of the European Union, aimed at blocking migrants in Libya, much as the European Union deal with Turkey did a year ago.

"We can not be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe's shores", he said.

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