On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that European Union drones are helping Libyan forces intercept boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean.
The drones, operated out of EU-member Malta, play a “crucial role” in detecting boats leaving Libya. This information is gathered by the EU’s border agency, Frontex, who then contacts the Libyan Coast Guard, it explained.
“Frontex claims the surveillance is to aid rescue, but the information facilitates interceptions and returns to Libya … (Despite) overwhelming evidence of torture and exploitation of migrants and refugees in Libya,” HRW said in a statement.
War-torn Libya is a major launchpad for people fleeing poverty and violence in Africa, to seek refuge in Europe.
HRW said Frontex’s drones appeared to have helped Libyan forces intercept a boat in international waters, without informing nearby rescuers.
It said it was investigating how “the shift from sea to air surveillance contributes to the cycle of extreme abuse in Libya”.
The New York-based rights group said some 32,450 people were intercepted by Libyan forces last year, and “hauled back to arbitrary detention and abuse” in the country.
United Nations experts have said acts of “murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment (and) rape” against detained migrants in Libya may amount to crimes against humanity.
The HRW report comes days after media reports that Frontex routinely covered up illegal “pushbacks” of migrants by the Greek Coast Guard.
The agency’s Head at the time, Fabrice Leggeri resigned in April. This was amid an investigation by the European anti-fraud office, OLAF, reportedly into alleged mismanagement.
HRW and Border Forensics, a nonprofit that uses innovative visual and spatial analysis to investigate border violence, are examining how the shift from sea to air surveillance contributes to the cycle of extreme abuse in Libya.