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Rights groups to Italy: Don't renew migrant deal with Libya

ROME – Human rights advocates and aid groups slammed Italy on Friday for deciding to extend a deal that facilitates the return of Europe-bound migrants to detention centers in Libya where detainees are at risk for getting raped and tortured.

Amnesty International said the Italian government's plan to renew the deal for another three years on Sunday makes it “complicit in this abuse.”

A 2017 accord between Italy and Libya included equipment and training for the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants who set off in smugglers' boats from the shores of the Northern African country. Migrants who get caught are returned to overcrowded detention facilities. U.N. refugee officials have said that migrants held in the centers are frequently beaten, raped and denied adequate food.

Doctors Without Borders, which with another humanitarian group operates a ship that rescues migrants from the Mediterranean Sea, joined the chorus of objections to the deal's renewal. It said Italy's aid contributes to trapping “innocent and vulnerable” people in war-ravaged Libya.

The human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, on Friday expressed “regret that Italian authorities have not scrapped that agreement or — as a minimum — changed its terms.”

Citing the worsening armed conflict between rival governments in Libya, she said “a great amount of evidence continues to point to serious human rights violations faced there by migrants and asylum-seekers.”

Mijatovic called on Italy and other countries that are members of the Council of Europe, a human rights body based in France, to work for the release of people detained in the Libyan centers and to facilitate the creation of safe transfers of migrants to Europe known as “humanitarian corridors.” Italy, together with Catholic groups, for example, have arranged for flights to Rome of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International noted that the fighting in Libya forced the United Nations' refugee agency this week to suspend operations at a transit facility in Tripoli due to safety concerns.

The tiny Italian Radical Party urged people to protest outside the Italian Parliament on Sunday.