Human Rights Watch says the world must do more to help end rights abuses in chaotic Libya, which has emerged as one of the main corridors for migration to Europe.
CNN on Thursday published an interview with a man who was kidnapped by Libyan slave traders after fleeing Nigeria in hopes of reaching Europe. He spent nearly a year as a slave in Libya before being rescued and returned back to the home he tried escaping.
Human Rights Watch says in its annual report Thursday that most of the over 200,000 migrants and asylum seekers who reached Europe last year by sea departed from Libya, where they face beatings, extortion, sexual violence and forced labor at the hands of armed groups.
Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director for the New York-based group, says “the migration crisis in the central Mediterranean shows the rest of the world that it is ignoring Libya’s human rights disaster at its own peril.”
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
As many as 700,000 migrants are stranded in dozens of camps across Libya.
Amnesty International released a report in December that accused the European Union of turning a blind eye to the allegedly brutal tactics of the Libyan coast guard and dangerous detention facilities.
The human rights group also alleged that the Libyan coast guard accepted kickbacks from smugglers to let migrant boats leave for Europe. Amnesty International said it had video and other documentary evidence that a boat donated by Italy was involved in an interception operation in which up to 50 people drowned.
“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said. “By actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes.”
Overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 1 million migrants in 2015, the EU has worked with Libya and its neighbors to cut off the main migration route from Africa to Europe. Its strategy has including training and equipping Libya’s coast guard to stop boats trying to make the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing.
The moves have trapped an estimated 20,000 migrants in Libya, where detention facilities are overcrowded and unsanitary, Amnesty International said.
EU officials have rejected criticism of Europe’s approach to curbing immigration and say the bloc’s money has been channeled into Libya through United Nations agencies. Only about 150 of Libya’s 3,000 coast guard members have received training sponsored by the bloc, the EU said.
Governments across Africa are under pressure to give their citizens a reason to stay.
The EU launched a 140 million euro ($166 million) project last year with the International Organization for Migration to assist migrants repatriating to some 14 countries. It has helped in the voluntary return of over 15,000 migrants. In Nigeria, the project says it has created 300 jobs. It is not clear how many jobs have been created overall.
Local governments are launching their own efforts. Nigeria’s Edo state, the source of about 80 percent of the country’s migrants, is creating farming projects to help returnees.
Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki this month approved 150 hectares (370 acres) of land and more than $326,000 for 150 people who returned from Libya a year ago and completed agribusiness training.