Thousands of migrants desperate to get to Europe are being held in detention centers across Libya. Some are run by foreign aid agencies, others by the myriad armed groups vying for power and money.
Joanne Liu, international president of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, has recently returned from visiting detention centers in Libya and told reporters that militia groups are detaining migrants in horrific conditions where they are subject to torture, rape, starvation and killing.
“Basically, I will describe those detention centers are for me, manufacturers of suffering at industrial level,” she said.
Migrants picked up at sea by Libya’s EU-sponsored coast guard are sent back into the country’s murky detention system. Lui describes it as a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion, and accuses Europe of complicity.
“Are they OK with containing and sending people back to where they will be raped, tortured and enslaved? Are they OK aiding and abetting criminals and smugglers?” she asked.
Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni pledged Thursday to demand improved conditions in the detention centers.
“But this commitment cannot go against our commitment to fight against the human smugglers and the flow of migrants into our countries,” he said.
The EU is struggling to balance public pressure to end the migration crisis with the bloc’s much vaunted human rights values, said Libya analyst Riccardo Fabiani of the Eurasia Group.
“This is the problem and the paradox here, that Europe needs, at least from the point of view of the authorities, to do something about migration, to reduce migration,” he said. “And the only way to do it is to reach a deal with the various parties and actors involved in human trafficking. But the price to pay for this is human rights violations and effectively accepting that a degree of violence and human rights violations will take place.”
Increasingly, Fabiani says, Europe appears willing to pay that price to end the crisis.