Migration: MSF warns EU about inhumane approach to migration management

As European Union (EU) leaders meet in Malta today to discuss migration, with a view to "close down the route from Libya to Italy" by stepping up cooperation with the Libyan authorities, we want to raise grave concerns about the fate of people trapped in Libya or returned to the country. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing medical care to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers detained in Tripoli and the surrounding area since July 2016 and people are detained arbitrarily in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, often without enough food and clean water and with a lack of access to medical care.   

Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF's General Director, has just returned from Tripoli after visiting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers detained in the Libyan capital.

"The EU and its Member States need a reality check. Libya is not a safe place - there is no way this can be considered a humane approach to migration management. There is currently a break down in law and order in Libya. Sub-saharan Africans are being detained with no due legal process and with no way to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Detainees are desperate to let their families know they are alive, but they have virtually no access to the outside world. Those I spoke to did not know what was going to happen to them despite being held for months.

MSF is working in seven detention centres in and around Tripoli but even the better ones where we work do not meet any national, regional or international standards. People are held in inhumane conditions. There's little natural light or ventilation and many facilities are dangerously overcrowded. The lack of human dignity was staggering. MSF medics are treating around 500 people a week for respiratory tract infections, acute watery diarrhoea, skin diseases and urinary tract infections - these complaints are mostly related to conditions inside the detention centres.

Shortages of food in the detention centres is a real concern – we're seeing adults suffering from malnutrition, and people are more susceptible to disease and acute illness. Detainees do not have adequate access to safe drinking water. Sometimes they have less than one litre of water per person per day. Access to latrines or showers is also severely limited, resulting in high rates of skin infections and infestations of lice, scabies and fleas.

A recent UN report highlighted the violence and abuses experienced by many people in detention. Our teams on Search and Rescue vessels in the Mediterranean have rescued more than 50,000 men, women and children and have documented many firsthand accounts of the alarming level of violence and exploitation this people experienced in Libya at the hands of security forces, militias, smuggling networks, criminal gangs and private individuals.

The absence of a functioning asylum system in Libya means that under the current circumstances people seeking international protection cannot be processed in a fair and efficient way and in accordance with international and regional refugee law.

The EU is misrepresenting the reality on the ground, Libya is not a safe place and blocking people in the country or returning them to Libya makes a mockery of the EU's so-called fundamental values of human dignity and rule of law."