LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AFP) - Fears a fresh wave of migrants could be poised to leave Libya for Europe mounted on Friday as tales from those who have reached Italy revealed how terrifying conditions have become in the conflict-torn north African state.
Asylum-seekers who have made it to the Italian island of Lampedusa paint a grim picture of a country locked into a conflict which is beginning to have an impact on the people-smuggling trade.
"Testimonies confirm that smugglers are increasingly violent with migrants, at the departure points and when they hold them in so called connection houses before their departure, where they wait for days or weeks before embarking," said Federico Soda, Mediterranean director for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The IOM interviewed dozens of migrants this week, including a Somali mother whose three-month-old daughter was born in a Libyan connection house, where she spent three months and was regularly abused by traffickers.
A 17-year-old Gambian was quoted as saying that life in Libya had become unsustainable for black African migrant workers, with violence and extortion now commonplace.
Many migrants described Tripoli, the Libyan capital, as being too dangerous to stay in. Others recounted how they had come directly from detention centres and were forced to pay guards to be released and taken to departure points outside the city to be put on boats.
The statements to IOM indicate that most Syrian and Palestinian migrants in Libya would have arrived from Sudan, having initially flown to Khartoum from Amman, Beirut or Istanbul before crossing the desert to Libya.
This route has replaced a previously favoured one through Algeria, made more difficult now with a tightening of visa distribution to Syrians and Palestinians.
Prices paid to traffickers also vary enormously, from US$400 (S$543) for a place on a boat up to US$1,500.
Once in Libya, migrants may stay for only days or a couple of years as workers.
A teen from Guinea Bissau said he had seen three companions murdered while working on building sites in conditions akin to slavery.
"Even my enemy - I would not want him to come to Libya," he said.