The report, titled "Pushed Back, Pushed Around: Italy's Forced Return of
Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya's Mistreatment of Migrants and
Asylum Seekers," said the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard were targeting boats
filled with illegal migrants in the western Mediterranean Sea. HRW said the
Italian Navy was also capturing the migrants and forcing them back to Libya.
A migrant told HRW that a Libyan vessel intercepted a migrant ship and
began shooting. He said Libyans in civilian dress killed at least one
"Then a Libyan navy boat came and got us and started beating us," HRW
said in a 92-page report on Sept. 21. "They collected our money and cell
phones. I think the Zodiac boat was working with the Libyan navy. The Libyan
navy took us back in their big ship and sent us to Bin Gashir deportation
camp. When we arrived there, they immediately started beating me and the
others. They beat some of the boys until they could not walk."
The report, based on interviews with 91 migrants, asylum seekers, and
refugees in Italy and Malta, said Italian Navy patrol boats intercept
migrant vessels and force their passengers onto Libyan ships. Some of the
operations were coordinated by the European Union migration control agency,
In May 2009, Italy and Libya established a command center and began
joint patrols in the Mediterranean. Frontex has reported a sharp decline in
illegal migration from North Africa to Europe in 2009.
"The reality is that Italy is sending people back to abuse," HRW refugee
policy director and author Bill Frelick said. "Migrants who had been
detained in Libya consistently spoke of brutal treatment and overcrowded and
HRW said Italy was forcing people to return to Libya with the knowledge
that they would be beaten, abused or tortured. The organization said Libya
banned a delegation from visiting a migrant detention center.
"Italy flouts its legal obligations by summarily returning boat migrants
to Libya," Frelick said. "The EU should demand that Italy comply with its
obligations by halting these returns to Libya. Other EU member states should
refuse to participate in Frontex operations that result in the return of
migrants to abuse."
A 26-year-old Eritrean, identified only as Daniel, recalled an
interception of his vessel by Malta, another leading partner of Italy and
Libya. Daniel said Maltese authorities towed the migrant vessel to a Libyan
ship for the voyage to North Africa.
"When we arrived, there were no doctors, nothing to help, just military
police," Daniel was quoted as saying. "They started punching us. They said,
'You think you want to go to Italy.' They were mocking us. We were thirsty,
and they were hitting us with sticks and kicking us. For about one hour they
beat everyone who was on the boat."
The European Union has been negotiating an agreement with Libya that
would create a mechanism for the return of illegal migrants. Italy has also
pledged to invest $5 billion in Libya, including its military and energy
sectors, as part of security cooperation.
"There are no refugees in Libya," Libyan Brig. Gen. Mohamed Bashir Al
Shabbani, director of the Office of Immigration at the General People's
Committee for Public Security, said. "They are people who sneak into the
country illegally and they cannot be described as refugees."