Human rights groups, like SeaWatch, have long complained about the conditions migrants have been held in detention centres run by EU-funded Libyan groups.
Revelations that a European Union-funded group known as the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) has placed at least 200 migrants in a detention centre bombed in July, killing roughly 50 people have raised concerns over EU efforts to stifle immigration.
The LCG has received roughly 91m euros from the European Commission since 2017 to stem migration, all while NGOs that engage in search and rescue operations have come under increasing pressure from EU authorities, especially in Italy and Spain.
The LCG is trained by European authorities, which also claim to monitor their efficacy. But rights groups have long warned the LCG isn’t operating with migrant safety as a priority.
Human Rights Watch said migrants and asylum seekers intercepted by the LCG detention on their way to Europe were placed in arbitrary detention in facilities that feature “severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, poor quality food and water”.
Some detainees told HRW they were tortured with beatings, electric shocks and other abuses.
Furthermore, the LCG has placed detained migrants in bombed-out shelters, according to media reports.
The AP ported on July 24 that the LCG placed 38 intercepted migrants in the Tarjoua detention centre, which was bombed on July 3, killing 58 people. But Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed to Spanish media that roughly 200 were placed there.
Haidi Sadik, the cultural mediator for Sea-Watch a migrant rescue NGO that helps save the lives of people in the Mediterranean, said in an interview that the LCG has previously asked Sea-Watch to place rescued migrants in danger.
Regulations under maritime and international law require that ships who see anyone in danger in the sea be rescued people and taken to a port of safety.
Sadik told TRT World the LCG has even asked a Sea-Watch vessel to take rescued migrants to Tripoli, Libya, in June, calling it a “port of safety”, according to emails the NGO received and Sea-Watch published on social media.
The cultural mediator stressed that Tripoli is not a port of safety for those escaping wars, considering the internal conflict occurring there which some have called a “bloodbath”.
“If an Italian state vessel sailed people into port Tripoli … the world would go nuts”, Sadik said.
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) of Rome, which coordinates search and rescue operations related to Italian ports, also received these emails.
The LCG asked MRCC Rome to message Sea-Watch to make sure their message was received, due to “internet problems”, the email shows.
MRCC Rome did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment.
Little is known about the LCG, which has little online presence other than a Twitter page.
InfoMigrants, a news organisation for migrants ran by French, Italian and German news agencies, said media reports imply the LCG is “loosely organized and linked to various factions of Libya's militias.”
The EC did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment.
When approached by InfoMigrants, the European Commission (EC) said it didn’t know how many ships, airplanes and personnel the coast guard currently possesses or operates.
What is known is that EU coordination with the LCG began as a populist, anti-immigration tide swept over Europe.
The EU has seen a steady decrease of migrant and asylum seeker arrivals since its peak of one million in 2015, leading some to think the European refugee crisis could be over.
However, EU governments in Hungary, Italy and elsewhere have painted migration as a national threat.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has railed against EU policy towards migrants and refugees.
"Italy is no longer willing to accept all the migrants that arrive in Europe”, Salvini, head of the far-right League party, said in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“France and Germany cannot decide migration policy by ignoring the demands of the most exposed countries such as us and Malta”, he continued.
Salvini has closed migrant centres in Italy and imposed fines of up to 50,000 euros for ships that bring rescued migrants to Italian ports.
Even Spain, which has been under the leadership of centre-left Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez since June 2018, has threatened NGOs that engage in search and rescue missions with fines of up to $1m.
However, returning the rescued to a war zone isn’t a valid option, according to Sea-Watch.
“It is a crime to forcibly return rescued people to a country at war, where they face unlawful imprisonment, torture and slavery”, the NGO said in a Facebook post that accompanied emails from the LCG in June.
The “EU being complicit” in efforts to further endanger migrants “is outrageous.”