Amnesty International is demanding the international community take serious measures to improve the lot of migrants trapped in Libya. It warns that EU cooperation on migrants with the Government of National Accord should not go ahead if it leads directly or indirectly to what it describes as further shocking human rights abuses.
Amnesty has today published a withering report which details the murder, rape, robbery and abuse carried out by Libyan people-smugglers on some of the tens of thousands of migrants crossing Libya on their way to a perilous sea journey to Europe and a hoped-for better life.
The testimony gathered from some 90 migrants and refugees who made it to the safety of three camps in Italy describes the way in which sub-Saharan Africans were imprisoned and exploited until they could earn their onward fares or more money be sent by relatives back home.
The human rights organisation’s MENA deputy director Magdalena Mughrabi said that its investigators had talked to victims who had “described in harrowing detail the horrors they were forced to endure in Libya”.
These included being abducted, incarcerate underground for months, sexually abused, forced to work, beaten and shot at by people-smugglers, traffickers or criminal gangs. Migrants said that they had faced abuse at every stage of their journey from their arrival in the country until they reached the northern coast. Other sub-Saharan Africans interviewed in Italy said that they had lived in Libya for years but had decided to get out because of increasing intolerance and harassment by local gangs, police or armed groups.
While Amnesty makes clear that it blames the Libyan gangs, it is also highly critical of the failure of the international community to try and help the migrants in Libya, which the International Organisation for Migration currently numbers at 264,000. Only 37,500, largely Syrians, have registered with the UNHCR.
“No one should have to face abduction, torture and rape in Libya,” said Mughrabi. The EU and governments around the world should dramatically increase the number of resettlement places and humanitarian assistance for vulnerable refugees.
She added: “The EU should focus less on keeping migrants and refugees out and more on finding safe and legal ways for those trapped in Libya to access a place of safety. The priority should be saving lives. This means deploying enough resources in the right places to prevent further tragedy”.
Amnesty said that the GNA should be held to its promises to address the scandal, not least of the appalling conditions for would-be migrants picked up by the Libyan coastguard and held in detention centres, where their abuse and torture continues.
Investigators spoke to 15 women who said that so great was their fear of sexual violence that they had begun taking contraceptive pills before setting out on their journey across Libya.
An 18 year-old Somali, named as Ahmed, described how last November, his group of migrants travelling in from Sudan were denied water as a punishment. After a young Syrian man died of thirst, the smugglers gave them water but it was too late for another Syrian who also died.
A 24 year old Eritrean claimed that the smugglers had thrown a disabled man out of the pick up truck and left his in the desert to die.
Sixteen women talked to by Amnesty said that they had been raped. They had been sexually assaulted by the smugglers or members of armed groups. Attacks took place all along the smuggling route and while women were being held in private houses or in abandoned warehouses near the coat, waiting to board a smuggler’s vessel.
Victims talked of gang rapes by drunken or stoned people-traffickers, including one incident near Ajdabiya. An Eritrean woman, Ramya ,said that guards would come in and choose a woman and take her outside. “The women tried to refuse but when you have a gun pointed at your head, you don’t really have a choice if you want to survive. I was raped twice by three men…I didn’t want to lose my life,” she said.
Amnesty also found evidence of religious persecution. One Eritrean Christian woman said that she and ten other women had been seized by people she thought were IS. They had been taken to Tripoli and kept underground for nine months, during which they never saw the sun. They were pressured into converting to Islam and beaten with sticks and hoses when they refused. When they finally gave in, the men considered them as their wives and treated them as sexual slaves.
Several accounts given to Amnesty tell of traffickers always demanding more money, if not from the migrants, from their families back home. An Eritrean said that he had been taken to a warehouse in Bani Walid where further payments were required. In the ten days before he managed to escape, he saw one man who couldn’t pay put into water and electrocuted. He told investigators “ They said that is anyone else couldn’t pay, their fate would be the same”.