Refugees and mi­grants in Libya face rape, un­law­ful killings, ac­cord­ing to new Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­port

Malta Independent - - Front Page - KEVIN SCHEM­BRI ORLAND

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has pub­lished a re­port de­tail­ing the abuses mi­grants face in Libya, stat­ing that “tens of thou­sands of refugees and mi­grants are trapped in a vi­cious cy­cle of cruelty with lit­tle to no hope of find­ing safe and le­gal path­ways out.”

The re­port ‘Be­tween life and death’: Refugees and mi­grants trapped in Libya’s cy­cle of abuse, doc­u­ments the ac­counts of refugees and mi­grants who have suf­fered or wit­nessed a litany of abuses in Libya, which Amnesty In­ter­na­tional says in­clude “un­law­ful killings; en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances; tor­ture and other ill-treat­ment; rape and other sex­ual vi­o­lence; ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion; and forced labour and ex­ploita­tion at the hands of state and non-state ac­tors in a cli­mate of near-total im­punity.”

To in­ves­ti­gate the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion of refugees and mi­grants in Libya, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional con­ducted in­ter­views with 43 in­di­vid­u­als, it said, in ad­di­tion to re­view­ing of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, state­ments and so­cial me­dia ac­counts man­aged by Libyan in­sti­tu­tions and re­ports and data is­sued by UN bod­ies and oth­ers.

“Those in­ter­viewed in­clude 32 refugees and mi­grants who had lived in Libya or were liv­ing there at the time of writ­ing, se­lected on the ba­sis of their will­ing­ness to share their ex­pe­ri­ences.”

The re­port reads that be­tween Jan­uary and mid-Septem­ber 2020, the Libyan Coast Guard dis­em­barked at least 8,435 peo­ple in Libya ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion. It men­tions that many had been handed over to the Direc­torate for Com­bat­ing Il­le­gal Mi­gra­tion (DCIM), un­der the min­istry of in­te­rior, “which placed them in cen­tres where they have been sub­jected to ar­bi­trary and in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion in in­hu­mane con­di­tions. Thou­sands more re­main sub­jected to en­forced dis­ap­pear­ance, af­ter their trans­fer to un­of­fi­cial de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties.”

The re­port reads that refugees and mi­grants in Libya are at “con­stant risk” of ar­rest or ab­duc­tion by se­cu­rity forces, mem­bers of mili­tias and armed groups, traf­fick­ers, crim­i­nal gangs and oth­ers en­gaged in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. “All 32 refugees and mi­grants in­ter­viewed in prepa­ra­tion for this re­port have been ar­rested or ab­ducted at least once dur­ing their stay in Libya, and many have spent time be­hind bars in mul­ti­ple de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties. None of the ar­rests doc­u­mented by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional were based on ju­di­cial de­ci­sions, and those de­tained, in­clud­ing fol­low­ing dis­em­barka­tion, had no pos­si­bil­ity to chal­lenge the le­gal­ity of their de­ten­tion. All 32 refugees and mi­grants in­ter­viewed for this re­port were also held for ran­som at least once, and were tor­tured, raped or starved un­til their fam­i­lies se­cured funds.”

One in­ter­vie­wee men­tioned in the re­port was “Dawit”, a refugee who the NGO says es­caped “in­def­i­nite forced con­scrip­tion in his coun­try of ori­gin and sought to reach Europe af­ter suf­fer­ing a cat­a­logue of abuses in Libya since 2017.” He re­counted his or­deal of be­ing cap­tured by a mili­tia af­fil­i­ated to the GNA in July 2020, the re­port reads. “For 15 days, they beat us with iron rods, they beat us with hoses, they beat us with any­thing they have. They ask us to pay 6,000 Libyan di­nars [around $4,400 at the of­fi­cial rate or around $940 at the mar­ket rate] for each, whether an adult or a baby.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said that for­mer de­tainees held in DCIM de­ten­tion cen­tres in west­ern Libya whom the NGO in­ter­viewed spent be­tween 15 days and nearly three years be­hind bars. “The length of their de­ten­tion generally de­pended on their abil­ity to pay ran­som or es­cape.”

The NGO “found that of­fi­cials, mem­bers of mili­tias and armed groups and traf­fick­ers sys­tem­at­i­cally sub­jected refugees and mi­grants to in­hu­mane con­di­tions of de­ten­tion, tor­ture and other ill-treat­ment, forced labour and other acts of vi­o­lence. Such crimes were doc­u­mented at of­fi­cial DCIM de­ten­tion cen­tres, pris­ons, nom­i­nally un­der the min­istries of jus­tice or in­te­rior, and un­of­fi­cial fa­cil­i­ties con­trolled by mili­tias or armed groups or run by traf­fick­ers.”

The NGO said that women and girls were at height­ened risk of sex­ual vi­o­lence and ex­ploita­tion. “Per­pe­tra­tors, in­clud­ing DCIM of­fi­cials, tor­tured and oth­er­wise ill-treated those in their cus­tody to pun­ish and hu­mil­i­ate them or to ex­tract ran­som money. For­mer de­tainees told Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that DCIM guards would reg­u­larly beat them for com­plain­ing about their con­di­tions, ‘talk­ing back’ or some­times for no ap­par­ent rea­son at all.”

Ikenna, a refugee who fled vi­o­lence in Nige­ria, told Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that guards at a DCIM cen­tre broke his leg in March 2020 “just for fun”, the re­port con­tin­ued.

Seven refugees and mi­grants, al­legedly held be­tween 2017 and 2020 at DCIM de­ten­tion cen­tres, told Amnesty In­ter­na­tional they wit­nessed sev­eral deaths in cus­tody of friends, fam­ily mem­bers or other de­tainees. “Eight refugees and mi­grants in­ter­viewed said they wit­nessed one or mul­ti­ple deaths, while be­ing held by traf­fick­ers be­tween 2017 and 2020. Wit­nesses cited gun vi­o­lence, tor­ture, star­va­tion, denial of med­i­cal care and generally poor con­di­tions of de­ten­tion as causes of death. In a par­tic­u­larly egre­gious crime, on 27 May 2020, traf­fick­ers in the town of Mazda, 180km south of the cap­i­tal Tripoli, shot at a group of about 200 refugees and mi­grants, killing 30 and in­jur­ing another 11. In another in­ci­dent doc­u­mented by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, in July 2020 se­cu­rity forces in the city of al-Khums, 100km west of Tripoli, opened fire at a group of un­armed refugees and mi­grants at­tempt­ing to flee de­ten­tion, lead­ing to three deaths and two in­juries.”

The NGO high­lighted that, even when free from de­ten­tion, refugees and mi­grants are also vul­ner­a­ble to sys­temic abuse and ex­ploita­tion by armed groups and mili­tias, and oth­ers en­gaged in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. “They are un­able to seek pro­tec­tion from ex­ploita­tion by un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers, who fre­quently refuse to pay them wages or pay lower amounts than promised. Even when paid, they are vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing robbed by armed men in the street or at home. They live un­der con­stant threat of be­ing forced to work, pre­dom­i­nantly in clean­ing and con­struc­tion, for mili­tias and armed groups for lit­tle or no money.”

A mi­grant, “Zahra” told Amnesty In­ter­na­tional: “The women work as house­keep­ers, but they of­ten leave work af­ter a few days due to the sex­ual ha­rass­ment and rape. They are afraid of work­ing in Libyan houses.”

The re­port also men­tions Italy and Malta as be­ing two coun­tries who are ‘ keen’ on co­op­er­at­ing with Libya to pre­vent sea ar­rivals, “re­gard­less of the hu­man rights con­se­quences.”

In Malta’s case, it states that the “Mal­tese au­thor­i­ties were im­pli­cated in mul­ti­ple fail­ures to re­spect and pro­tect the rights of refugees and mi­grants at sea, in a clear at­tempt to fur­ther out­source con­trol of the cen­tral Mediter­ranean to Libyan au­thor­i­ties. Un­der Mal­tese co-or­di­na­tion, peo­ple were pushed back to Libya, left stranded at sea in danger of drown­ing, and un­law­fully de­tained for weeks on board pri­vate ves­sels meant for brief plea­sure cruises.”

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