Rome – Libya is the gateway to Europe for people fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty. Hundreds of thousands have made the dangerous journey across Africa and the Mediterranean Sea towards Italy in recent years.
The political backlash resulting from the wave of migration has led the EU to take measures to prevent people from making the crossing in the first place.
The Italian cabinet last month approved a naval mission in Libyan waters. It would deploy a large vessel and several smaller ships to intercept migrant boats, with the passengers taken back to Libya.
“Bringing them back to Libyan shores creates a vicious cycle where desperate people try repeatedly to escape abuse and death, and European forces prevent them from doing so,” Oxfam said in a new report.
Libya descended into political chaos after the NATO-backed ouster of former leader Moamer Gaddafi in 2011. This lawlessness has made it the main springboard for often deadly migrant voyages.
More than 180,000 people arrived in Italy after making the journey in 2016. Some 95,000 people have arrived so far this year, according to the UN refugee agency.
Safe and secure ?
The charity recommended that the processing of asylum seekers be done in a “safe and secure” environment, with the burden spread across the 28-nation bloc. It also called on the EU to create more “safe routes” so they do not have to risk their lives.
Out of 158 migrants Oxfam spoke with in Sicily between October 2016 and April 2017, “the vast majority had experienced some form of degrading treatment” during their time in Libya.
All but one of the 31 women interviewed had been victims of sexual violence. Nearly three-quarters said they had witnessed the murder or torture of a travelling companion, while 84 per cent said they themselves had suffered inhuman or degrading treatment.
Hamza, a 30-year-old from Morocco, said he nearly died after being abducted by a gang who tried to rape him.
Hamza told Oxfam that they took him as he was walking down a street in Tripoli, put a hood over his face, and then demanded a ransom from his family as they held him captive in an underground location.
“They beat and wounded me several times with a knife. I still have the scars … I was on the verge of dying because of the beatings I endured to resist the traffickers who wanted to rape me. They regularly raped men. I have seen all kinds of sexual violence.”