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(CNN) —  

Amnesty International has accused European governments of being complicit in the torture and abuse of migrants and refugees in Libya.

In a new report, the human rights group criticizes European governments for supporting efforts by the Libyan coastguard to prevent migrants crossing the Mediterranean and returning them camps in Libya.

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centers where they are subjected to systematic abuse,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses.”

Amnesty called on the EU to end what it called a “policy of containment” and instead establish “pathways” to bring the migrants and refugees to Europe safely.

Dalhuisen called on European governments to rethink their policies and help people reach Europe legally, “including by resettling tens of thousands of refugees.”

“They must insist that the Libyan authorities end the policy and practice of arbitrary arrests and detention of refugees and migrants, immediately release all foreign nationals held in the detention centres,” he said.

The Triq Al-Sika Detention Center in Tripoli, where some migrants are held by Libyan authorities before they are repatriated.
Raja Razek/CNN
The Triq Al-Sika Detention Center in Tripoli, where some migrants are held by Libyan authorities before they are repatriated.

The EU institutions were “working to save lives, pure and simple,” a commission spokesperson said in an email to CNN.

“We do so by 1) stopping people drowning in the Mediterranean, 2) evacuating them from disastrous conditions in Libya and 3) offering them safe and legal pathways to come to Europe.”

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, spoke with Libyan Prime Minister Fayes al-Sarraj Tuesday morning on the issue, the statement said.

An EU Commission-sponsored joint task force with Libya, the African Union and the United Nations is to meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU has funded the International Migration Organization to help 15,000 people stuck in Libya to return home, and plans to repatriate 15,000 more. It has also settled 40,000 refugees that have crossed into Europe from Libya and plans to take 50,000 more in 2019, the commission said.

CNN has exposed the conditions faced by mainly sub-Saharan Africans in Libya, secretly filming a slave auction there.

The Amnesty report also accused the Libyan coastguard of endangering migrants’ lives and of intimidating NGOs operating in the Mediterranean on rescue missions.

Ships from the humanitarian organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station approach a boat migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on April 15.
DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI
Ships from the humanitarian organization Migrant Offshore Aid Station approach a boat migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on April 15.

Last year at least 3,800 people died trying to make the sea crossing from Africa to Europe, according to the UN.

Human-trafficking networks have spread in Libya following the NATO-backed overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.