More than 5,000 refugees and migrants were arrested by Libyan authorities last week and some reportedly suffered severe physical and sexual violence, before being held in increasingly “inhuman” conditions in detention centers in Tripoli. .
Many of those arrested have escaped wars or dictatorships across Africa and have already endured years of detention. They were intercepted at sea as they attempted to reach Europe by the EU-backed Libyan coast guard.
Libyan authorities said the arrests were linked to illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical association said the number of people in Tripoli detention centers had more than tripled since Monday. “During the searches of their homes, many of those captured were reportedly subjected to severe physical violence, including sexual violence,” the association said in a statement. A young migrant was killed and at least five others were shot and wounded, according to the UN.
“We see the security forces taking extreme measures to arbitrarily detain more vulnerable people in inhumane conditions in overcrowded facilities, ”said Ellen van der Velden, MSF’s operations manager for Libya. “Entire families of migrants and refugees living in Tripoli have been captured, handcuffed and transported to various detention centers. In the process, people were injured and even killed, families were separated and their homes were reduced to rubble. “
MSF – which recently ended a three-month suspension of its aid in detention centers to protest the level of violence there – visited two sites where the new captives are being held: Shara Zawiya and Al-Mabani.
In Shara Zawiya, more than 550 women – some of whom were pregnant – children and newborns were crammed into cells. About 120 inmates shared a single toilet.
In Al-Mabani, MSF said men were forced to stand due to overcrowding, while hundreds of women and children were held outside without shade or shelter. Several people were unconscious and required urgent medical attention.
An Eritrean, who escaped arrest, said he managed to contact friends who had been detained. “There is no water, food, sleeping stuff,” he said. “Some tried to escape but got caught and beaten and those who did were injured. Others paid to be released, but unfortunately were taken from the streets and returned to prison.
“Over 90% of all migrants are arrested,” he added. “It’s like we’re playing hide and seek with the police or other forces now.”
On Monday, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was suspending work at its Tripoli day center until further notice, after hundreds of refugees and migrants gathered there in search of protection. The agency said the suspension was due to “escalating tensions involving violence and disruptive behavior.” On Thursday, UNHCR said it was working to establish alternative channels of communication with those in need of assistance.
Another Eritrean said he had been trying to get UN help all week. “What do they want us to do? He told the Guardian on WhatsApp. “They catch us at sea, they catch us in our homes. What do they need us to be? What is our fault in this life? They don’t think we are humans.
More than 81,000 migrants have been intercepted at sea since 2017 and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard, who are trained and equipped by the EU and have also received assistance from the British armed forces.
On Monday, the first findings of an independent fact-finding mission commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council revealed that “murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts committed against migrants [in Libya] are part of a systematic and generalized attack directed against this population, in the service of a policy of the State ”which could constitute crimes against humanity.
Inside the detention centers, according to the report, “all migrants – men and women, boys and girls – are held in harsh conditions, some of whom die. Some children are detained with adults, putting them at high risk of abuse. Torture (such as electric shocks) and sexual violence (including rape and forced prostitution) are rife.
The EU delegation in Libya did not respond to a request for comment.
The UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, came to power in Libya in March as part of a peace process. Elections are scheduled for December and January.