The Guardian | 30.01.2017
Embassy in Niger verifies reports of rights abuses including executions in camps as Italy demands action to halt crossings
by Patrick Wintour
Conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya are worse than in concentration camps, according to a paper sent to the German foreign ministry by its ambassador in Niger.
The German embassy in Niger has authenticated reports of executions, torture and other systematic rights abuses in camps on the refugee route in Libya, Die Welt cited the report as saying on Sunday.
The warning came as EU leaders prepare for a summit in Malta on Friday to discuss ways to control migration across the Mediterranean from Africa this summer, amid pressure from Italy to take decisive action.
Similar evidence of atrocities in Libya have been emerging from in a court case in Milan brought by the Italian state against a leading smuggler.
The situation in Libya underlines the need for the EU to persuade the country’s leaders to allow UN access to set up refugee processing centres before pressing ahead with a tougher policy of sending back migrants found on boats heading for Italy.
Leading Italian politicians have said action to stem the flow of migrants is critical if the country is to stave off the growth of populist parties.
The Germany embassy in Niger said in a diplomatic cable that authentic cellphone photos and videos substantiated reports of concentration camp-like conditions in private prisons operated by people smugglers.
“There are executions of countless migrants, torture, rapes, bribery and banishment to the desert on a daily basis,” the report says.
Witnesses spoke of five executions a week in one prison, designed to free up space for new migrants and increase smugglers’ revenues.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said the EU cannot strike a Turkey-style deal in which the Libyan government would be given substantial EU donations in return for keeping people in Libya.
The chaotic state of the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli makes such donations impossible at this stage
The UK foreign office has been concerned by reports of conditions in camps in Libya, but access is near impossible due to a lack of security and the failure of the UN-backed government to develop its authority outside a small part of Tripoli.
UK diplomats acknowledge the danger is that tens of thousands of Africans will be forced back into Libya, with no effective detention centres in place. One idea is for the EU to finance camps in Africa so the UN refugee agency and charities could process migrants and prevent them from trying to cross the Mediterranean.
At the summit the EU is proposing to train a Libyan military coast guard to operate inside Libyan coastal waters and force the boats back. Similar proposals have been tabled in the past.
It is not possible legally for EU patrols operating outside Libyan coastal waters to turn ships around once they are on the high seas. On Friday, the Italians rescued 1,000 people at risk of drowning.
The sea crossing from Libya to Italy has become the main access route for migrants and refugees. A record 181,000 people reached Italy on the route last year.
Italy fears another surge in crossings this year. Italian ministers have insisted they will not allow Italy to become a hotspot for refugees, and want agreements from other EU states that they will take some of the people who reach Italian shores.