Italy will continue providing assistance to Libyan coastguards despite new claims of abuse against migrants in North African detention centres.
The coastguard training financed by Rome is intended to curb the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
But the project is under scrutiny after a scathing report by Amnesty International on the conditions in which migrants are held after being intercepted by Libyan coastguards.
It said detainees were subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, forced labour, invasive searches and even torture.
Italian prosecutors last week sought to investigate reports that Libyan coastguards fired at a migrant boat in the Mediterranean.
Amnesty called on European countries to suspend co-operation with Libya on migration and border control.
“European partners have continued to support Libyan coastguards to forcibly return people to the very abuse they fled in Libya,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Despite this, Italy’s lower house of Parliament approved a renewal of funding for Libyan coastguards in a vote on Thursday.
A motion to immediately suspend assistance to the Libyan coastguard was rejected by a majority.
The number of Mediterranean crossings is on the rise as migrants take advantage of good weather and ebbing Covid-19 restrictions.
Thousands of asylum seekers from Libya and Tunisia arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on one weekend alone in May.
The UN’s refugee agency said Libyan coastguards returned more than 13,000 people to the country between January and June, more than in all of 2020.
The number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean is also on the rise, with more than 1,000 people known to have died in the first half of 2021.
NGOs fear the real number could be significantly higher because of the number of unreported shipwrecks across the region.
UN officials joined the EU and African Union in a joint appeal this week for Libya’s interim government to address concerns about the detention centres.
“We are very concerned about recent developments regarding the situation of migrants and refugees in Libya,” they said.
“Severe overcrowding, lack of adequate facilities and provision of basic services, restricted humanitarian access and human rights violations result in unacceptable conditions for the men, women and children detained.”
The UN and allies said Libya’s compliance with human rights principles was a cornerstone of its co-operation with world powers.
Libya’s interim government is seeking global support to secure its transition to a peaceful future as it prepares for elections in December.
The unity government took office in March with the backing of the UN and Western powers.
It replaced two warring governments that had ruled different parts of Libya, which had been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.