Europe accused of failing migrants in Libya as human traffickers thrive

BRUSSELS - Rising populism across Europe is fueling human trafficking in Libya where a growing number of migrants are being trapped in detention centers and sold into slavery, aid officials told a conference on modern-day slavery on Wednesday.

The rise of anti-immigration political parties in nations from Italy to Slovenia and Europe-wide efforts to stem migration means more migrants in Libya are struggling to leave and are falling into the hands of traffickers, several experts said.

A video appearing to show Africans sold as slaves in Libya sparked a global outcry last year and put the spotlight on the lawless nation where thousands of migrants are held, tortured, and even killed, say the United Nations and rights groups.

"It is more difficult (for migrants) to leave Libya now ... and the traffickers have to monetize their investments," said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) senior official Vincent Cochetel.

"They sell people, they lease them, they rent them," the UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean told the Thomson Reuters Foundation's one-day Trust Conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The number of migrants reaching Italy has fallen sharply since last July when a major smuggling group in Libya struck a deal to halt departures under Italian pressure.