People aboard a small boat

What happens to the people the E.U. abandons at sea?

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Forced LaborHuman TraffickingLaw & Policy

Almost 13,000 people were intercepted in the Mediterranean and returned to Libya between January and August 20, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many were then held in dire conditions and subjected to torture and forced labor.  

By strengthening the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity to intercept boats and avoiding their own duty to rescue people in distress at sea, the E.U. and its Member States are driving people into situations of modern slavery in Libyan detention centers.  

Drown or be detained 

Godwin, a 34-year-old man from Nigeria, risked his life and savings to get to Europe. He paid around $1,100 to travel on an overcrowded boat from Zawiya, Libya, to Italy.  

He told France 24: 

It was night when I got on the boat, it was already dark. I didn’t know (where we were going). I just wanted to go to Europe and have a good life.

But his dream was taken from him when a Libyan Coast Guard vessel picked them up at sea. Godwin was so determined not to go back to Libya that he thought about throwing himself into the water.  

The authorities took him back to land where he was put in a detention center and only released after securing a ransom of around $550 from his family.  

Godwin’s experience is shared by many. Indeed, a U.N. report released last October said that migrants in detention in Libya face “murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment (and) rape”, and that these acts could amount to crimes against humanity.  

How the E.U. indirectly pushes people at sea back to Libya 

The E.U. provides training and equipment to strengthen the Libyan Coast Guard’s capacity to perform pull-backs. The bloc’s border agency Frontex also uses drone technology to facilitate interceptions and returns, according to Human Rights Watch.  

In addition, member states are failing to fulfil their duties toward people in distress at sea. France 24 reports: 

Alarm Phone, a group running a hotline for migrants needing rescue, this month accused Malta of failing to launch operations to rescue migrants in danger, “despite their obligations to do so” under international law. 

“Alarm Phone has witnessed this non-assistance policy in action innumerable times,” it said, accusing Malta of “abandoning boats at risk of capsizing” within the island’s search and rescue zone. 

E.U. and its member states are actively working to ensure that people fleeing Libya are captured and returned to an environment where they are at high risk of enslavement, torture and abuse. 

Join the movement  

Together with other activists and organizations, we’re making it clear to the European Union that we won’t stand for its complicity in modern slavery.  

The renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration between Italy and Libya is looming. We have until November to get it cancelled, so we must keep up the pressure! 

We cannot let thousands more people suffer forced labor, trafficking, torture and extortion. We cannot let the E.U. and member states continue to prop up this horrific system just to stem new arrivals. Join the fight today. 

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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