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Libyan, European and Panamanian authorities must ensure that at least 79 refugees and migrants who are on board a merchant vessel at the port of Misratah are not forced to disembark to be taken to a Libyan detention centre where they could face torture and other abuse, said Amnesty International today.

The refugees and migrants, including a number of children, were found as they attempted to reach Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. Amnesty International understands that Italian and Maltese maritime authorities were involved in the operation, carried out by the merchant ship Nivin. Flying a Panamanian flag, the Nivin picked the group up in the central Mediterranean on November 8 and returned them to Libya, in what appears to be a clear breach of international law, given that Libya cannot be considered a safe place to disembark.

“The protest on board the ship now docked in Misratah, gives a clear indication of the horrifying conditions refugees and migrants face in Libya’s detention centres where they are routinely exposed to torture, rape, beatings, extortion and other abuse,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Director for Amnesty International.

“It is high time the Libyan authorities put an end to the ruthless policy of unlawfully detaining refugees and migrants. No one should be sent back to Libya to be held in inhumane conditions and face torture and other ill-treatment.”

Like most of the refugees and migrants passing through Libya, a number of those on the ship told Amnesty International that they had been subjected to horrific human rights abuses, including extortion, ill-treatment, and forced labour, much in line with what has previously been documented in Libya by the organization. One of those on board told Amnesty International he had already been held in eight different detention centres inside Libya and “would rather die than go back there”.

Fourteen people who agreed to leave the ship yesterday have been taken to a detention centre – among them is a four-month-old baby.

The news comes amid reports that some refugees and migrants held at Libyan detention centres are being driven to take their own lives. A young Eritrean man was reported to have attempted suicide earlier this week. Last month a Somali man at the same detention centre died after setting himself on fire.   

“Unable to return home out of fear of persecution, and with very limited chances for resettlement to a third country, for most refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres in Libya their only option is to remain in detention, where they are exposed to grave abuses. “

“Europe can no longer ignore the catastrophic consequences of its policies to curb migration across the Mediterranean. The protest on board this ship should serve as a wake-up call to European governments and the wider international community that Libya is not a safe country for refugees and migrants,” said Heba Morayef.

“Under international law, no one should be sent to a place where their life is at risk.  European governments and Panama must work with Libyan authorities to find a solution for the people on board to ensure they do not end up indefinitely detained in Libyan detention centres where torture is rife.

“The international community also has to do more to increase the number of refugees they are willing to resettle, increase access for people seeking asylum and offer alternative routes to safety for thousands of people stranded in Libya with no end in sight to their suffering.” 

Amnesty International is also calling on Libyan authorities to expedite the opening of a long-awaited processing centre that will house up to 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers allowing them to relocate out of detention centers.

Earlier this week Amnesty International highlighted how thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya continue to be trapped in appalling conditions in Libyan detention centres with no way out.