At least 220 Gambians have been saved from the deteriorating migrant crisis in Libya amid reports that the small nation’s citizens are among thousands being sold into slavery.
The West African authorities, who met with EU leaders in the Ivorian commercial city, Abidjan coordinated with the UN migration agency to repatriate its citizens.
Close to 2,000 Gambians stranded in Libya have been rescued and Gambian officials say they hope to have more of their citizens returned. Some Gambian returnees said they were tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment, calling their captors “cruel and wicked.”
“They are very wicked and cruel. They will beat you with anything they have. You cannot even sleep. They force us to work and beat us with iron. We were really suffering and we are glad to be home. I hope the government safe others who are left there too,” said Amadou Bojang.
Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Italy and other EU governments of being “knowingly complicit” in horrific abuses of migrants in Libya, warning of legal action against them at European and UN rights institutions.
The charges by the London-based rights group mark a ratcheting up of activist and other accusations against the European Union’s policy of aiding the UN-backed government in Tripoli in order to stop migrants from traveling to Europe.
“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centers where they are subjected to systematic abuse,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
The report suggested that up to 20,000 people are currently being held in Libyan detention centers for migrants, where they face torture, forced labor, extortion, and even unlawful killings.
Italy has spearheaded efforts to keep African migrants out of Europe, training and equipping the Libyan coast guard and helping finance U.N. agencies working on relief efforts in Libya.