* Migrants risk being sold into a form of slave labour - MSF
* Libya-Italy now main sea route to Europe for migrants
By Steve Scherer
ROME, April 3 An agreement between Italy and
Libya to fight people-smuggling in the north African nation will
lead to migrants being returned to camps where they are held
against their will, extorted and abused, Doctors without Borders
(MSF) said on Monday.
Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the
U.N.-backed Libyan government in Tripoli - which was endorsed by
the European Union - in February that promised training,
equipment and money to fight human traffickers.
However, Arjan Hehenkamp, general director of MSF and head
of the group's Libya mission, said the idea that migrants can be
housed in a humane way on Libyan soil "is simply impossible".
"It's a dangerous fiction to think otherwise," Hehenkamp
told reporters in Rome after flying in from Libya.
He added that anyone who thinks Libya is a safe port for
migrants "is purposely living between alternative facts and la
la land... It's simply impossible right now to think that Libya
can be considered part of the solution."
He described seven of the camps in and around Tripoli as
detention centres controlled by militias that are rife with
violence and abuse.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti has said that human rights
must be respected and that new camps should be opened with the
help of U.N. agencies, but so far this has not happened.
The EU has so far trained about 90 people to work in the
Libyan Coast Guard and Italy has promised to give them 10 patrol
boats, the first of which are to be delivered by mid-May.
After a deal between the EU and Turkey largely shut down the
sea route to Greece last year, the main passage for migrants to
Europe now is through Italy by boat from Libya, where
people-smugglers operate with impunity.
Migrant arrivals in Italy are up some 30 percent this year
to 24,000, according to official figures, and an estimated 600
have perished trying to make the crossing.
Often they are rescued by humanitarian groups, which have
come under scrutiny from an Italian court for allegedly
favouring departures. The Libyan coast guard is already turning
back some migrant boats.
Often those turned back end up in the same detention centres
they were trying to flee, Hehenkamp said, where "a system of
abuse and extortion" means migrants either pay smugglers for a
sea passage or risk being sold into a form of slave labour.
Libya is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups that have
built local fiefdoms which have vied for power since Libya's
2011 uprising, and two governments - one in the east and another
in Tripoli - are competing for control.
"Returning people to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard is
questionable because they end up in detention centres," Othman
Belbeisi, the International Organization for Migration's chief
of mission for Libya, told Reuters last week.
"(But) smugglers are still known and seen. You can meet them
in a cafe in the middle of Tripoli."
(With additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Tunis, editing by