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Washington, D.C. June 1, 2017 – Whether in search of work or in transit as they seek safety or a better life in Europe, refugees and migrants in Libya face unspeakable abuses that include arbitrary detention, torture, rape, forced labor, kidnapping, slavery, and even death. A new report from Refugees International, “Hell on Earth”: Abuses Against Refugees and Migrants Trying to Reach Europe from Libya, details the inhumane conditions for thousands of men, women, and children who become trapped in Libya and outlines the European Union’s (EU) failure to provide pathways to protection.

As Europe faces its largest movement of refugees and migrants since the World War II, the majority of refugees and migrants are reaching its borders by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, with the main route now between Libya and Italy. Thousands of refugees and migrants travel to Libya hoping to make the crossing, but become trapped by the country’s lawlessness and violence. Many are held by smugglers for months or detained in official or semi-official detention centers in inhumane conditions where even their most basic rights are denied. Eager to stem the flow of people using this route, the EU and Italy are training and equipping the Libyan coast guard who, unlike the EU’s own naval operations, the Italian coast guard and European nongovernmental organizations, take people back to Libya and not to Italy. One of the EU’s priorities in Libya is promoting the return of migrants to their country of origin, but RI found that there is no clear solution for people who cannot return home due to persecution, war, or violence.

“European leaders are so desperate to stop more refugees and migrants from arriving in Italy that they’re turning a blind eye to the horrors in Libya,” said Izza Leghtas, Refugees International’s Senior Advocate for Europe. “EU countries can’t send refugees and migrants back to Libya without violating international law, so they’re empowering the Libyan authorities to do so instead, knowing full well that the refugees and migrants are being returned to arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions.”

In March 2017, Refugees International interviewed dozens of refugees and migrants who survived the deadly journey between Libya and Italy. They described dire conditions in migrant detention centers where they were hardly given any food and where the staff beat and even kill migrants detained there. Men, women and children who are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard as they attempt to cross over to Europe are placed in such centers. In its report, RI urges the EU and its member states to ensure that their funding and actions in the Central Mediterranean do not result in or contribute to human rights abuses against refugees and migrants.

“Ending the crisis in Libya – political and humanitarian – won’t happen overnight; the EU must face this reality and do everything in its power to protect refugees and migrants from these abuses,” Leghtas said. “This means providing legal and safe pathways to safety in Europe for people in need of international protection, as well as working with the UN to put an end to this cycle of abuse and total impunity.”

Read the full report.