“Thousands of refugees and migrants face kidnap, slavery, torture and sexual violence in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy – if they are not killed first. Oxfam has spoken to men and women who have spent months being beaten, tied up like animals and sold as cheap labour in Libya’s shocking slave trade. Women are at an extremely high risk of physical and sexual violence, and men also speak of rape. For many, the hazardous escape from Libya across the Mediterranean is not a choice, but a matter of survival, even if it is against the odds. But due to EU governments’ flawed policies that aim to prevent people getting to Italy, thousands are trapped in the living hell that is Libya. The EU is meant to be a bastion of human rights: EU member states should ensure that migrants arrive safely in Europe where they can have access to a fair and transparent process for claiming asylum.”

Conclusion and recommendations

“European policies will continue to fail if they do not take into account the experiences of people forced to flee from war and persecution and to escape poverty, and thousands more will die trying to reach safety. As these testimonies show, Libya continues to be a country marked by systematic human rights abuses committed by traffickers, smugglers, militias and bands of criminals. The European Union’s attempt to ensure people are unable to leave Libya puts more men, women and children at risk of abuse and exploitation. Based on these accounts, Oxfam recommends:

• The EU and its member states should refrain from signing agreements that try to stop people in danger from leaving Libya by sea. Search and rescue operations serve a humanitarian purpose and should not be undermined by political pressure to stop migration.

• The processing of asylum applications must take place in a safe and secure environment. European countries should take their fair share of asylum seekers and allow vessels with anyone saved at sea to reach European shores.

• Once asylum seekers have arrived in Europe, more EU member states should offer to process their applications, so that Italy is not shouldering the responsibility alone.

• Finally, the EU and its member states should create more safe routes for migrants so they are not forced to risk their lives in Libya and by crossing the Mediterranean. Seasonal labour visas and humanitarian visas that protect refugees from persecution are examples of potential solutions.”