On Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Chief, Antonio Vitorino said that “at least 5,000 migrants are being held in official detention centers in Libya, and they represent just the tip of the iceberg.”
“It remains very unacceptable in terms of the violation of the rights of migrants in the country. We have always made it clear that detention is not a solution,” he said during a press briefing organized by the United Nations in Geneva.
“Under the UN, the IOM collaborates with the refugee agency, UNHCR to provide life-saving assistance to migrants in official detention centers.
But we fear that there are non-official detention centers to which neither agency has any kind of knowledge and access,” Vitorino said.
Libya had become the preferred route for tens of thousands of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia seeking to reach Europe, after the fall of Muammer Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.
When migrants who attempt the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean are intercepted by authorities, they are brought back to the Libyan coast and placed in detention centers. These centers are regularly denounced by the UN for poor conditions.
Vitorino called on the European Union to show “clarity” and “predictability” when it comes to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, particularly on the safety of disembarkation points.
Italy’s geographic location has made it the premier destination for asylum seekers. A new law introduced in January has limited humanitarian ships to carry out only one rescue at a time.
Human traffickers have benefited from the lawlessness in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages.
Vitorino said his agency met the Italian officials last week, “precisely to address the situation” but offered no further details about the discussion.