Around 5,000 migrants are being held in official detention centres in Libya but they could represent just the tip of the iceberg, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) chief said.
Speaking in Geneva Wednesday (Mar. 8) Antonio Vitorino decried "the violation of the rights of migrants" in Libya as he urged to look for alternatives to the detention of people on the road to exile.
In Libya, the UN agency IOM collaborates with the refugee agency UNHCR to provide assistance to migrants in official detention centres.
Following the chaos induced by the assassination of Moamer Kadhafi and the fall of his regime in 2011, Libya became a preferred route thousands of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
These are regularly denounced by the UN for poor their conditions.
Vitorino called on the European Union to show "clarity" and "predictability" when it comes to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, particularly on the safety of disembarkation points.
When migrants attempting the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe they are intercepted by authorities, some are brought back to the Libyan coast and placed in detention centres.
Italy's geographic location has made it the destination of choice for asylum seekers from North Africa, but a new law introduced January has limited humanitarian ships to carrying out only one rescue at a time.
Vitorino said his agency met the Italian officials last week "precisely to address the situation" but offered no further details about the discussion.
Last October, human rights organizations have demonstrated against the renewal of an agreement between Italy and Libya to prevent migrants and refugees from reaching Europe's shores.