The European Union’s policy of aiding Libyan authorities to intercept migrants and return them to detention is “inhuman”, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said migrants had been locked in hangars and stripped of dignity with “no access to the most basic necessities”.

Libya’s Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) said almost 20,000 people were now in their facilities, dramatically up from just 7,000 in September.

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“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” Hussein said.

Just this week European government representatives met with African leaders in the Swiss capital Bern to discuss ways to support vulnerable migrants in Libya, but failed to announce any concrete steps.