Migrants rescued from the Mediterranean say they are tortured and their families blackmailed for ransom while they are held in Libyan government detention centers. The report, released by the Associated Press, comes as a UN report last week found evidence of possible crimes against humanity being committed against migrants who were intercepted at sea and handed over to Libya.
Amadou Traore and his close friend, Osman Touré, are still haunted by bad memories from their years of living in an illegal migrant detention center in Libya.
They said they were tortured, harassed and subjected to other very inhumane treatments.
Traore said, “I was mistreated, I was tortured. It’s because I couldn’t pay the ransom they demanded, but luckily over time I was able to pay and I’m free. I’m free from Libya, from prison.”
Toure said, “They said we should call our parents, and ask them to send us a ransom so we wouldn’t be tortured. When we were arrested, we were immediately placed there. Even if they released us they only released one or ten people at a time, while the rest are sold. We’ve been traded and we didn’t even realize it.”
The two Guinea Conakry migrants are among tens of thousands of migrants languishing in Libyan government-run detention centers after they were caught crossing the Mediterranean on the services of people smugglers.
The Associated Press interviewed them and about 20 other migrants aboard the Geo Barents, a rescue ship operated by the group Doctors Without Borders. The migrants were previously held in various detention centers in Tripoli and the surrounding area in the past four years.
Migrants say they experience some of the worst types of treatment, including torture and sexual violence, offenses that could amount to crimes against humanity, according to UN-commissioned investigators.
Their bodies showed old and new scars, and marks of gunshot and knife wounds to their backs, legs, arms and face.
Mohamed Salah Desouk, a migrant from Ivory Coast, said, “Prison guards have no mercy on us black people. When they see us, they think that we are people who have been forgotten and that they can do something wrong.” whatever they want with us.”
UN officials and activists say rampant ransom practices in official detention centers may explain the disappearance of thousands of migrants destined for Europe who were intercepted and returned to Libya.
The Libyan coast guard, trained and equipped by the European Union, intercepted some 26,000 migrants destined for Europe in the Mediterranean so far this year, but only about 7,000 have been recorded in the North African country’s official detention centers.
Julie Melichar, humanitarian officer with Doctors Without Borders said, “We call for a state-led search and rescue system in the Mediterranean, not a reckless non-assistance policy. We call for an end to the policy of forced return of migrants to Libya.”
The European Union has poured $525 million into Libya since 2015. The funds are mostly channeled through UN agencies and aim to increase the readiness of Libya’s coastguard to strengthen its southern border and improve conditions for migrants.
However, according to an Associated Press investigation released in 2019, most of the funds have gone to networks of militias and people smugglers who often exploit migrants.
Libya is the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.
However, according to a number of human rights activists and migrants who managed to escape, weak law enforcement has made Libyan detention centers a lot of abuse.
So far this year some 44,000 migrants have reached European shores by crossing the Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya. Many of them reached Europe with the help of smugglers using ships that were not really seaworthy.
Roughly half of the migrants arriving in Europe land on Lampedusa, an Italian island located closer to North Africa than mainland Italy. [ab/uh]