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Aid Groups Criticize Italy-Libya Agreement To Help Push Back Migrants


Italy has been a destination for many migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and land in Europe. It signed an agreement with Libya that would help Libyan coast guards push back that influx of migrants, and groups including the International Organization for Migration say that migrants could be consigned to brutal conditions at detention centers. Leonard Doyle of the IOM joins us from Geneva. Mr. Doyle, thanks so much for being with us.

LEONARD DOYLE: Thanks, and it's a pleasure to be on.

SIMON: The Italian government points out that right now migrants are being preyed on by smugglers who robbed them and then put them on leaky, dangerous boat. Wouldn't this deal reduce that?

DOYLE: We don't think so. I mean, the truth is that Libya is in - is a state without a government, and there is no real command of control to speak of. There are two rival entities. As - the problem is that there is no - the security on the ground is so bad that any deal like this is possibly just going to help the smugglers themselves. It's a state in which everybody's in the migrant business, and everybody is exploiting them, unfortunately.

SIMON: Yeah. You have been to detention centers recently, I gather, in Tripoli.

DOYLE: Yes. I went there with the director general of IOM, William Lacy Swing, and we were the first - he was the first head of an international organization into Libya since the bombing and since the fall of Gadhafi. And notwithstanding that the places - you know, it's relatively orderly on this - on site, but behind the scenes lurks a lot of danger, and the migrants themselves are in an appalling place. They get preyed upon. They get put into detention centers for no reason. They've not committed a crime, and they're essentially kind of - there's an awful gulag, if you like, of torture and oppression going on in which they're being sold as virtual slaves, if not actual slaves, for between $200 and $500, depending on their skills. And eventually, they end up, you know, buying the - trying to buy their way out of the place and onto these boats and many drown.

SIMON: How are they preyed on in the detention centers?

DOYLE: Well, women are taken off and sold - literally sold - to private individuals as sex slaves. Other men, depending on their skill level, if they have any, could serve (ph) farm labor. They'll get $200. They'll be sent off to take in a harvest and then sold on to somebody else at some point. The data is a bit - you know, it's not - we're not entirely clear as how it happens in practice because there's about at least 30, 40 detention centers. Some are run by the government's Department of Combating Illegal Migration as it's called. And they're a tad better, but there's lots of militias, indeed Daesh, these ISIS - the terrorist group - and others profiting from the traffic and trade in migrants.

SIMON: Mr. Doyle, and I - and I'm sorry that we just have a minute left, but how would you change things if you could? I mean, does the EU, as a whole, have the resources to take in the millions of people who want to come there? And at the same time, is it good for countries to leave their own country so bereft of talented people?

DOYLE: Correct. I mean, it's - I mean, a lot of things have to happen, and they're starting to happen at many levels. The European Union has woken up to the fact that there's this, as they call it, a great, gaping hole on this southern flank, through which you're having more migrants passing through than in - than ever, you know, about 40,000, 48,000 so far this year, and about a thousand died. At the same time, the countries of origin - you know, these countries of West Africa have been left to their own devices for so long that I think there's finally an attempt to bring some development there. The problem is that as countries develop, people want to migrate. They see opportunities abroad. They get some education for their kids. So it's a very complex problem that needs all of the efforts involved (ph) - and not just simple solutions, like sending in, you know, gunboats and that type of thing. That doesn't work.

SIMON: Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Migration, thank you so much.

DOYLE: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.