Migrant Arrivals in Italy Soar as Amnesty Warns of Libya Abuses

June 17,2016

LONDON— The number of migrants arriving in Italy from North Africa more than doubled from April to May, according to the latest figures from the European Union.

Some 19,000 migrants arrived in Italy in May from North Africa. More than double than previous months. More than 13,000 people were rescued in the central Mediterranean region in a single week — the highest weekly total ever reported.

As the numbers rise, the European Union recently opted to extend for another year its Operation Sophia, targeting smugglers and migrant boats.

"Migrants and, most importantly, smugglers are adapting to the new policy taken by Europe,” he said. “They're just adapting to the different environment, which means basically that the problem is not receding."

FILE - African illegal migrants wait to receive medial assistance after being rescued by coast guards, in Tripoli, Libya, April 11, 2016.
FILE - African illegal migrants wait to receive medial assistance after being rescued by coast guards, in Tripoli, Libya, April 11, 2016.

Over 2,100 people have died so far this year crossing the central Mediterranean. Earlier this month, the EU revealed plans to enhance cooperation with key countries on migration routes, especially Libya. But with the country still fractured by rival administrations and militias, finding an effective partner is all but impossible, says Fabiani.

"The Libyan coast guard will nominally cooperate with the National Unity Government and Europe on this issue,” Fabiani said. “But then, effectively, what will happen is that behind closed doors, they actually strike deals with the militias handling these smuggling routes, and will turn a blind eye or will turn back some of the migrants to these militias."

Amnesty International accuses the Libyan coast guard of widespread abuses against the migrants. The group interviewed dozens of people who had survived the crossing — and who described horrific treatment.

"We have documented cases of shootings, abandonment, beatings by the Libyan coast guard themselves as they were rescuing people. And even more importantly, horrible cases of torture and abuse of people in the detention centers where these refugees and migrants are taken," Amnesty’s Gauri van Gulik told VOA.

In one case, several migrants described being abandoned at sea by the coast guard after their boat engine broke down.

"What's crucial is that the European Union doesn't treat Libya as it has been treating Turkey, and pretends that Libya can somehow hold back refugees and migrants who are trying to make their way to Europe," Van Gulik said.

The United Nations says over 7,000 unaccompanied children made the journey from North Africa to Italy in the first five months of the year — many of them at huge risk of exploitation.

The UN estimates there are another 235,000 migrants currently waiting in Libya, trying to reach Europe, tens of thousands of them children traveling alone.