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Libyan migrants beaten and tortured

A rights group has revealed accounts of torture and inhumane conditions in Libyan detention centres.

African migrants wait at a Libyan Naval forces post in Tripoli on 10 April, 2014 after their boat was intercepted en route to Europe and brought back to Libya. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Guards in Libyan detention centres are whipping, beating and shocking migrants and those seeking asylum in Europe, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday.

The group said findings from April interviews with 138 detainees in Libyan detention centres revealed almost 100 reported torture and other abuses and that they were denied access to a court hearing.

HRW officials recount seeing massive overcrowding, dire sanitation conditions and lack of adequate medical care in eight of the nine centres run by the Interior Ministry's Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).

Libya's porous borders with its sub-Saharan neighbours and its proximity to Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean have made the North African country a common transit route for migrants trying to illegally cross to Europe, usually attempting to land on the Italian island of Lampedusa or Malta.

Men said they were beaten with iron rods, sticks, and rifle butts, and whipped with cables, hose pipes and rubber whips made of car tires and plastic tubes, sometimes over prolonged periods of time on the soles of their feet.

They also said the guards had burned them with cigarettes, kicked and punched them on their torsos and heads, and used electric shocks with tasers on them.

In one centre five detainees said guards suspended them upside down from a tree and then whipped them.

Both men and women said male guards had strip-searched them on arrival at the centres and conducted invasive body and cavity searches.

Detainees in four centres said guards threatened to shoot them or shot above their heads. Detainees also described verbal abuse by guards including racial slurs, threats, and frequent swearing.

MIGRANTS REACH RECORD LEVELS

The Italian Navy's large scale rescue operation, known as Mare Nostrum, has been running since October 2013 rescuing thousands of asylum seekers and migrants from unseaworthy boats.

Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the number of immigrants passing through Libya has risen sharply and the country's coastguard and army are ill-equipped to stem the tide. HRW said record levels of migrants making the dangerous sea crossing have been recorded in 2014.

Meanwhile, the EU and Italy have committed at least €12 million over the next four years to the centres.

"The EU and other donors should make clear to the Libyan authorities that they won't keep supporting detention centres where guards abuse migrants and asylum seekers with complete impunity," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at HRW.

"Donors should insist that abuses must end and conditions improve before aid keeps flowing."