New Amnesty International Report Reveals Extent of Refugee Struggles in Libya

Amnesty International has released a groundbreaking report discussing the plethora of human rights violations that refugees and migrants in Libya suffer on a daily basis. While the report is novel in that it comprehensively addresses topics such as arbitrary detention, physical torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, coerced labor, and more, Amnesty makes an important note: this is not a new trend. Human rights violations in Libya have been well-documented for years by human rights NGOs and advocates worldwide. Now, however, an opportunity has arisen once again to discuss worsening conditions for refugees and migrants in Libya during the looming 2019 threat and now 2020 reality of COVID-19.

The situation for refugees and migrants in Libya is bleak- in addition to fighting their own battles against the human rights violations waged against them, “the struggle for legitimacy, governance and territorial control” occurs in the background. Refugees and migrants face capture and arrest by police, criminal gangs, armed militant groups, and human traffickers- they are abducted, raped, forcibly starved, and physically tortured multiple times. In spite of the common knowledge of these migrants’ suffering, however, “the European Union (EU) and its member states continue to implement policies that trap refugees and migrants in Libya” by preventing escape to Europe.

As of April 2020, approximately 600,000 refugees and migrants lived in Libya and had come from various other locations throughout Africa: Niger, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, and Nigeria. The Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) routinely carries out the arrests and abductions of these thousands of refugees who are then arbitrarily detained for prolonged periods of time. Moreover, the fact that many other thousands have gone missing as a result of enforced disappearance is concerning and has raised flags at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

However, nothing is more telling of the tragedies that these migrants and refugees in Libya face than their own personal testimonies depicting the senseless and sinister abuses they face in forced labor camps as well as official and informal detention centers:

“For 15 days, they beat us with iron rods, they beat us with hoses, they beat us with anything they have. I ran away, but my wife – she is pregnant in her six month and is detained in Abu Eissa [DCIM detention centre]. I was detained before there. It is a horrible place. I am scared for them….You have to pay [a ransom] or you will die there.”– Dawit (pseudonym)

“One night at 3am, some criminals came in our home. They beat my wife. I fought back. They stabbed me in a leg and said: ‘If you move, we shoot her.’ They kidnapped us and took us to a hangar outside of Tripoli. They asked for $20,000 per person. There were 16 or 17 people in the hangar – from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia. We stayed about 15 days…They beat people. When you arrive, they put you naked, beat the men and rape the women. After two weeks, I took a chance and ran away.” – Liban (pseudonym)

“It is very hot now….Sometimes the ward would have 35 to 80 people in the same place and only one vent to bring in air. They [DCIM} do not care about us. We do not have food. We do not have anything. We have to survive on whatever NGOs give to us. We have very young children here and they never have milk or juice.”– Samuel (pseudonym)

“They beat me, put electricity on my body. Mostly at night and early morning, when office people [international organizations or DCIM administration] are not there. They asked for money, but I had none.”– Emmanuel (pseudonym)

“The police took us on buses to the prison, Tariq al-Sikka. I saw [about] 600 people there. There were so many [detainees] inside. The air was so bad it would make people sick….We had problems with health and food. There was a doctor, but he would only give some tablets and then leave you. i was trying to help two men who had tuberculosis…Both died, while they were sleeping on my lap [on separate occasions]. I was looking after them in a separate room for the sick. We were friends; we were together on the boat.”- Abdi (pseudonym)

“During the night…the guards go to the women’s ward and then I would hear the screaming…You know what happens there. They [the women] told us…they beat and raped them.”– Anonymous

Outside of detention, however, the situation for refugees and migrants in Libya encounter no improvements either. In nearly 60 percent of municipalities, refugee and migrant local residents lack access to electricity, potable water, sanitation services, and other public goods and services. The majority of migrants work informal jobs with no contracts, meaning their payment is scarce and that they are abused and exploited by their employers. Because of their poverty and lack of fair access to life necessities, refugees and migrants live in squalor, in overcrowded and unsanitary housing facilities, shacks, and even landfills.

To make matters worse, refugees and migrants in Libya do not experience acceptance from the broader community and instead report racism and xenophobia as recurrent realities. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees in Libya have been referred to by their peers and in DCIM documentation as “carriers of contagious diseases” and a threat to the public health of the nation in the case that “God forbid a migrant enters [Libya] with coronavirus and it becomes a big problem.”

Refugees and migrants in Libya face problems at nearly every cornerstone of life, both within and without detention centers: access to health care and sanitation, exploitation of labor, trafficking, sexual violence, physical abuse, harassment and xenophobia, complicity of government institutions. Amnesty International’s remarkable report posits a new call to action- we must hold the Libyan government accountable to its violations of human rights and to its obligations under international legislation and standards. We must continue to raise the stories of these suffering refugees and migrants to international stages until reparations are made and human rights are returned to these vulnerable individuals. “We will escape from the homeland. We will run vigorously towards exile, but alienation is also cruel and unbearable. It will eventually suck the nectar out of our life.”– Anonymous

Read Amnesty International’s Report, Libya: ‘Between Life and Death’: Refugees and Migrants Trapped in Libya’s Cycle of Abuse

Photo by vpickering on Flickr.