Libya’s treatment of refugees under the spotlight
LIBYA’S coastguard stands accused by search-and-rescue organisations of reckless behaviour and endangering the lives of desperate African refugees trying to reach Europe from the North African country.
The accusations come as two UN agencies on Tuesday pledged to “go the extra mile” in supporting migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and Libyans affected by Libya’s ongoing conflict.
“A series of incidents caught on camera appear to show Libyan ships trying to prevent refugees being pulled from the water. Refugees also say they’ve been robbed and shot at by Libyan forces,” Al Jazeera reported.
According to the refugees, they were also ordered at gunpoint to jump from their boats into the sea by the armed coastguards.
A spokesperson from Libya’s coastguard didn’t deny the claims, but accused the rescue boats of illegally entering the country’s waters without first co-ordinating their movements with the Libyan authorities.
This is not the first time the Libyans have been accused of mistreating the refugees, who use the North African country as a point of departure to flee to Europe in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats run by human traffickers, subsequently resulting in the drowning of hundreds.
Earlier in the year the UN children’s agency, Unicef, released a report, “A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route”, which said migrant women and children were being subjected to sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy.
“Last year, at least 4 579 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, or one in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 of those who lost their lives were children,” said Unicef.
Women and children also reported harsh and overcrowded conditions, including lack of nutritious food and adequate shelter, in Libyan detention centres run by both government and armed militias.
According to media reports, the mistreatment and torture of refugees, sometimes leading to their deaths, in the detention camps is not unusual.
“Libyan authorities should end the torture and sexual violence that has been the lot of detained migrants for years,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Refugees are rescued off the coast of Libya.