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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Is the European Union funding the torture of refugees in Libya?

Amnesty International says European funding to secure Libyan borders is resulting in ‘holding centres’ where abuses occur.

A displaced Libyan Tawargha woman is seen in a refugee camp in the outskirts of Benghazi.
A displaced Libyan Tawargha woman is seen in a refugee camp in the outskirts of Benghazi.
Image: Manu Brabo/AP

THE EUROPEAN UNION may be unwittingly funding abuse of Libyan refugees through its support for border control mechanisms, Amnesty International has claimed.

The group says an EU-funded programme to support the troubled country’s international borders may be forcing vulnerable people into holding centres where they are routinely abused.

While the EU’s programme in Libya has been intended to help curb “illegal migration” across the borders – mostly to Italy, which has colonial ties with Libya and which has housed many refugees – the programme also means keeping asylum seekers in temporary accommodation.

Amnesty said it visited seven of these ‘holding centres’ earlier this year, and found evidence of ill-treatment – and in some cases, torture.

In at least two of the centres, detainees said they had been shot with live bullets during some riots, while in other cases detainees said they had been subjected to beatings with water pipes and electric cables.

In another instance, a man was shot in the foot and tied to a bed where he was hit with the butt of a rifle in his lower back. Four months later he remains unable to walk, or even stand up.

Over 25,000 people have been deported from Libya in the last year, on the basis that they are considered to have entered the country illegally – but people ready for deportation are housed in the centres for months at a time, without legal aid.

At the time of Amnesty’s visits, a total of 5,000 people were being held in 17 holding centres, which Amnesty also says have poor hygiene standards where many suffer from conditions like chronic diarrhoea.

In one centre, 80 detainees were held in a courtyard in the sun to treat an apparent scabies infection which left them with itchy hands and genitals. However, the patients then became dehydrated because of their exposure to the sun.

“The torture and ill-treatment we uncovered at ‘holding centres’ is unacceptable and is a stain on the record of post-Gaddafi Libya,” said Amnesty International Ireland director Colm O’Gorman.

“EU funding should be used to promote and protect human rights in Libya. It is deeply troubling that EU money appears to have been used to support detention centres where thousands of foreign nationals are unlawfully held.”

Amnesty had asked the EU and its member states not to enter into further agreements to fund Libyan border control without assurances that Libya’s interior ministry offers a guarantee to uphold the human rights of people who may be housed in its centres.

Read: Irish teachers still owed €142,000 for teaching Libyan Leaving Certs

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