BRUSSELS – European Union countries are complicit in the abuse of migrants held in Libya, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday that accused the EU of turning a blind eye to 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 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.
The EU's border agency, Frontex, reported Monday that the number of migrants making it to Europe through the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy dropped by one-third during the first 11 months of the year, to around 116,400, compared to the same period in 2016. Most were Nigerians, Frontex said.
Amnesty said the report was based on interviews with dozens of migrants and officials.
The group said it also reviewed video, photographs and documents showing that in at least one incident, the crew of a boat Italy donated to Libya's coast guard failed to deploy lifeboats for migrants it encountered.
While trying to climb up the high sides of the vessel, the Ras Jadir, many passengers fell into the water and about 50 drowned, Amnesty said. Recordings also showed rescued migrants being whipped on the coast guard ship, the rights group alleged.
It said some migrants onboard jumped into the water to try to reach rafts deployed by a non-governmental organization's rescue boat.
"European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely, the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused," Dalhuisen said.