Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the Geneva-based Organization for Migration, told the Wall Street Journal that interviews with 14 Libyan migrants reaching the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on three vessels over the weekend confirmed a pattern of payments to officials, which he characterized as extortion.
"They're robbed of whatever savings they carry, mobile phones, watches," he told the newspaper in a Wednesday report.
Citing accounts by by migrants who survived the capsizing of an overloaded boat near Tripoli's harbour, the Journal also said that the Libyan navy sometimes escorts the migrant boats, in effect helping direct the refugee traffic as it leaves Libyan shores.
Libya previously patrolled its shores to prevent migrant boat departures, as stipulated in a an according between Libya and Italy. That pact was scrapped when Italy joined allies in a UN-mandated mission against Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
In that accident a boat on Friday carrying more than 600 people broke up approximately 100 metres from the shore. The death toll remains uncertain.
In excess of another 800 mostly sub-Saharan African have perished at sea while sailing from Libya during a 12-week-old insurgency against Gaddafi's rule, the Journal said, citing according the United Nations refugee agency.