A new U.N. report finds migrants in Libya are subject to systematic human rights violations and abuse to compel them to accept so-called assisted returns to their countries of origin.

Authors of the report say migrants in Libya are trapped in an untenable situation. They say the migrants are forced to choose between returning to the countries they fled because of unsafe or unsustainable conditions — or facing continued ill treatment in Libya.

The report says migrants frequently are compelled to accept assisted return to escape abusive detention conditions. These, it says, include threats of torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearance and extortion.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani notes that assisted returns, in principle, are meant to be voluntary.

“However, the report finds that in reality, many migrants in Libya are unable to make a truly voluntary decision to return in accordance with international human rights laws and standards. Many of them find they have no choice but to return to the same circumstances that made them leave their countries in the first place,” she said.

The U.N. reports roughly 600,000 migrants comprising more than 40 nationalities are in Libya today. Among them are some 43,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers.

Since 2015, the U.N. reports more than 60,000 migrants have been repatriated to different countries of origin across Africa and Asia through so-called assisted return programs.

Shamdasani says most of the migrants come from Sub-Saharan Africa, and are exposed to particularly severe treatment in both official and unofficial detention facilities.

“One of the witnesses of a police anti-migrant raid said ,‘If they saw a black person, they would just catch you.’ They demolished homes, locked people up in jail. They were holding 4,500 black people like dogs,” she said.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on Libya and involved states to take immediate steps to address what it calls an indefensible, unconscionable situation.

It says Libyan authorities must end all violations and abuses of migrants’ rights. It adds other states should provide more protection to migrants trapped in Libya by increasing safe and regular pathways of admission to their territories.

Shamdasani tells VOA the report was shared with Libya prior to its release. She says no formal response has been received but U.N. officials will be reaching out again to offer their support in implementing the report’s recommendations.

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