The report comes as aid agencies accuse the EU of “wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean” by imposing a new code of conduct on rescue missions to curb the flow of refugees from North Africa to Italy’s coast.
These actions expose refugees and other migrants to suffering and death, and must end, Oxfam has said.
“These testimonies paint a horrifying picture of desperate people who have risked their lives to escape war, persecution and poverty only to be confronted with unimaginable cruelty in Libya,” said Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive at Oxfam GB.
“The UK, along with other EU member states, has actively supported efforts to limit arrivals in Europe, trapping refugees and other migrants in a living hell.”
The UN’s new envoy to Libya on Monday endorsed Italy’s efforts to stop the flow of refugees heading to Europe, which aims to strengthen the Libyan coastguard to ensure boatloads of refugees are intercepted before reaching international waters.
“Outsourcing the policing of our borders to Libya isn’t the solution; EU member states, including the UK, should provide safe routes for people to come to Europe, including expanding opportunities for refugee families to reunite, and provide access to fair and transparent processes for claiming asylum,” Lawrence said.
Oxfam, which partnered with MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights) and Borderline Sicilia to compile the report, analysed 258 testimonies and interviews from 31 women and 127 men.
Some revealed how gangs imprisoned them in underground cells, before calling their families to demand a ransom for their release. A teenager from Senegal told how he was kept in a cell which was full of dead bodies, before managing to escape. Others spoke of being regularly beaten and starved for months on end.
Three quarters – 74 percent – of those interviewed witnessed murder or torture and almost all of the women had been sexually assaulted. Men also spoke of rape.
The report found 84 percent suffered inhuman or degrading treatment, extreme violence or torture in Libya, 80 percent said they had been regularly denied food and water, while 70 percent said they had been tied up.
Refugees are also sold as cheap labour in Libya’s shocking slave trade.
Oxfam concluded its report by urging the EU and its member states to refrain from signing agreements that try to stop people in danger from leaving Libya by sea.
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, Oxfam said.
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.