The EU has provided training and equipment to Libyan coast guards and given tens of million of euros to assist migrants stuck in the country.
Brussels insisted on Tuesday that it is not handing "physical money" to Libyan entities after a UN fact-finding mission found that the EU "aided and abetted" the commission of crimes against migrants in the conflict-torn country.
The UN report released on Monday and based on hundreds of interviews conducted over a three-year fact-finding mission concluded that there is evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed against Libyans and migrants stuck in the country.
These crimes include women being forced into sexual slavery, arbitrary detention, murder, torture, rape, enslavement, and enforced disappearance.
The Libyan coast guard were meanwhile found to be working "in close coordination" with trafficking networks in Libya with the exploitation of vulnerable migrants generating "significant revenue".
“The support given by the EU to the Libyan coast guard in terms of pull-backs, pushbacks, (and) interceptions led to violations of certain human rights," investigator Chaloka Beyani told reporters. "You can’t push back people to areas that are unsafe, and the Libyan waters are unsafe for the embarkation of migrants.”
He said the European bloc and its member states weren't found to be responsible for war crimes, but "the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes.”
'A stimulus for us to work more'
Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for the EU external affairs service, told journalists on Tuesday that "one thing which is very important to bear in mind, we are not financing any Libyan entity. We are not giving physical money to partners in Libya, exactly for these reasons."
The EU and its member states have for years provided material and technical assistance to the Libyan coast guard in a bid to boost interception of boats attempting the dangerous crossings across the Mediterranean to illegally reach Europe. This includes training for the coast guard as well as boats.
It has also spent tens of millions of euros to protect and assist migrants and refugees and support local communities.
"What we are doing is allocating a lot of money, which is then usually used by our international partners. A lot goes through the UN, for example, when we are doing the repatriations, when we are doing reallocations through IOM or with the help of the UNHCR," Stano said.
"So I don't agree with the claims that our money is going to finance the business model of the smugglers or of those who are misusing and mistreating people in Libya, quite to the contrary. Most of the money goes in order to take care of these very people," he added.
The money was used, for instance, to fund 60,000 assisted voluntary returns and the vacuation of 5,500 refugees from the country through the UNHCR, Stano said.
The EU, he also said, is "taking seriously the concerns" raised by the UN fact-finding mission.
"Our objective, our joint objective, is to help to improve the situation of the people stranded in Libya. And there are results. Of course, there are incidents, there are issues which are source of concern. We try to address them with the partners in Libya, with the international partners."
"What we are seeing and witnessing now is just a stimulus for us to work more in order to convey to the Libyan partners to work with us on these and also with the international partners to engage even more, because in the end, it's people we are talking about and it's people to whom our efforts are directed at," he said.
In August 2022, there were almost 680,000 migrants from over 41 nationalities in Libya, according to the UN's International Organisation for Migration. The vast majority are adults although 11% are children