The Address | Benghazi – Libya
The flimsy boat of more than 100 people had been at sea for 12 hours when those on board put in a distress call to the Italian coastguard.
“Switch off the engine, we are coming,” an Italian accented-voice told them. But it was the Libyan coastguard who appeared instead.
For Sam, a 30-year-old Eritrean who fled his home country a year earlier to escape indefinite military service and a brutal dictatorship, the forced return to Libya, in February 2018, would have life-changing health consequences. Like thousands of other migrants rescued by the Libyan coastguard, he ended up in a detention center where conditions have been described by the United Nations as inhuman and squalid.
The European Union is currently pouring tens of millions of euros into the Libyan coastguard in a bid to prevent those crossing the Mediterranean ending up in Europe.
The money is being spent through the EU’s Trust Fund for Africa, created in 2015, which will see nearly €4 billion spent across 26 countries along the migration route to Europe. Critics say it overly focuses on security, with scant regard for the human implications of halting migration.
Since the deal was signed with the Libyan coastguard in February 2017 tens of thousands of refugees and migrants like Sam have been sent to Libya where they end up in detention centers.
Although the EU publicly says they want the centers closed, almost all refugees and migrants returned to Libya are locked up. Some languish for more than a year before they can be legally evacuated, escape, bribe their way out to try and cross the Mediterranean again, or are forcibly sold back to smuggling gangs.