THE Council of Europe has asked Italy to explain what its naval ships are doing off Libya’s coast amid concerns that Europe-bound migrants sent back to Libya face “a real risk” of torture or inhuman treatment.

In a September 28 letter published yesterday, the council’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, warned Interior Minister Marco Minniti Italy again risked violating the European Convention on Human Rights.

The convention prohibits exposing people to “torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

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Italy announced in July it was sending naval units to Libya’s coast to help the local coast guard prevent migrants from leaving.

The increased patrols, coupled with Italy-backed deals to use militias on land to prevent would-be refugees from leaving, has greatly reduced the migrant flow to Europe.

To date, the number of migrants who reached Italy in 2017 is 25 per cent less than 2016, according to Italian interior ministry data.

Aid groups, human rights organisations and media reports have documented the wretched conditions of Libyan detention centres, where physical and sexual abuse of migrants is rampant.

Muiznieks asked for clarification of the type of support Italy is providing Libyan authorities in its territorial waters “and what safeguards Italy has put in place” to ensure that the migrants Italy returns are not subject to torture.