Roundtable on 1 April at the EU parliament: “Inhumane treatment and trafficking of people in Libya – The EU’s and EU Member states’ responsibility”

The roundtable was held from 18:30 – 20:00 and was hosted by Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL Group) and Ana Gomes (S&D Group) together with the organisation Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA).

Human rights activists, journalists, NGO representatives and experts spoke during the roundtable. All panellists mentioned and attested to the horrific living and detention conditions of refugees in Libya. Abraham Tesfai, activist fighting for human rights, read out the names of those who died in unspeakable suffering. Many migrants and refugees are dying in the official and unofficial centres because of untreated infection, malnutrition, mistreatment (such as beatings, electrical shocks and rape), machine guns, or even because they commit suicide by setting fire on themselves.

Refugees are intercepted at sea by the EU-backed Libyan coastguard, while trying to reach the European borders. They are returned to Libya and placed in detention centres, where they are detained arbitrarily in awful conditions and exposed to horrific abuses, said Matteo de Bellis (Amnesty International). This situation leads to human trafficking and smuggling, and enrichment of militias. The European actions and policies (such as the push-back mechanism) are instrumental to trapping thousands of people in a situation of abuse. “In fact, EU governments and institutions have offered all kinds of support to the Libyan authorities in exchange to prevention arrivals of refugees and migrants from reaching European shores” said Matteo de Bellis.

According to Human Rights Watch representative Philippe Dam, the migratory – humanitarian – crisis in the Mediterranean Sea entails three implications:

  • The failure of disembarkation of persons rescued at Sea by NGO, military and merchant boats to EU ports of safety,
  • The deliberate efforts of EU member states to hinder rescue operations at sea and the suspension of rescue operation led by operation Sofia,
  • The overall failure of EU policies to alleviate the sufferings of migrants stuck in Libya, including those intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guards.

NGOs told of how difficult it is to be in touch with the refugees in the Libyan detention centres, to speak with the authorities, and above all, to agree with the EU institutions and countries. Member of the European Parliament Marie-Christine Vergiat said: “We fight against the trafficking of human beings but we fight those who seek to cross the sea. The suspension of naval operations is the perfect illustration. More than 10,000 refugees were rescued by NGOs last year. But because Member States cannot agree, actions have been suspended. And more recently, France announced that boats will be delivered in Libya, with full knowledge of the facts”. She added that migrants were referred to as “goods” by the EU commission representatives.

Despite this, Prof. Mirjam van Reisen encouraged the Roundtable to keep on finding sense and accountability to what is done, and keep on collaborating and working together.