Geneva – The illegal practices committed by the Libyan authorities against migrants and asylum seekers, whether during pushbacks or in prisons and detention centers, violate their right to life and physical and psychological integrity, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a report released Monday.
Titled "Complex persecution: Complemented system of oppression and exploitation of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya," the report documents horrific violations practiced by the Libyan authorities against migrants, including arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment, and financial extortion in prisons and detention centers.
In one of the testimonies documented by the report, a young Syrian man, M.M., told the Euro-Med Monitor: “They put us in small overcrowded cells with small ventilation holes not exceeding 20×20 cm [...] We had a meal every 20 hours, consisting only of a small loaf of bread with a small piece of cheese and a small amount of salty water[...] After several days, we were visited by people who offered to release us in exchange for sums of money that ranged between 800 - 2,500 dollars. Indeed, my family negotiated with one of these brokers, and they agreed on a sum of money that was paid for my release. After all that, they told me that I will be released on the condition that I do not try to migrate anymore.”
In other cases, the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) was involved in serious violations during pushbacks, including practices that might lead to death.
Sudanese refugee Hassan Zakaria Omar told the Euro-Med Monitor: “In 2020, I tried again to ride the sea and migrate to Europe. This time we set out from the coastal city of Khums in the northwest of the country. The boat moved at about 2:00 a.m., and we sailed for about 10 hours. The next day at 2:00 p.m., the boat engine broke down, and we were stuck in the water. We had no choice but to contact the LCG to save us. Indeed, the LCG boats arrived and evacuated us from the boat. But the shocking thing was that they left six people on the boat for no reason and without any means of livelihood. Most likely, these six died slowly, as we have not heard any news from them since then.”
In addition to the research efforts, the report is based on months of field documentation and interviews with migrants and their families. The researchers monitored the various Libyan agencies’ dealing with migrants, particularly the LCG, prison administrations, and security forces.
A Libyan government official told Euro-Med Monitor that the number of detained migrants and asylum seekers in prisons and detention centers may reach 13,000 detainees of different nationalities. They are mostly from African countries, such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Egypt, and the Maghreb countries.
Most of them did not intend to settle in Libya, but rather to move from the Libyan coasts to the European coasts through sea smuggling operations.
Anas Aljerjawi, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operations Officer, said: “The ruling authorities in the east and west of the country share the same discriminatory and inhumane policies against migrants. The prosecution, detention, and humiliation procedures in prisons and detention centers are similar in both the east and west of Libya.”
He added that migrants in Libya are subject to a complemented system of exploitation and persecution, whether at the hands of smuggling gangs or the Libyan authorities who detain them in inhumane conditions and practice all forms of violations against them, including financially blackmailing them over their freedom for money or service work.
Over the past several years, the EU has adopted policies that have complicated the conditions of migrants and have legally restricted migration and asylum routes to Europe.
Since 2015, the EU has provided about $525 million to Libya to protect its southern borders and limit the arrival of new migrants. It directed a large share of this support to strengthen LCG’s capabilities, modernize its equipment, and train its cadres to intercept migrants’ boats within the territorial waters and return them to the Libyan mainland before reaching international waters. The EU turns a blind eye to LCG’s abuses against migrants during the pushbacks.
The report reviewed the various smuggling methods, which begin with influencing asylum seekers with propaganda promoted by smuggling networks inside or outside Libya and then assembling them in warehouses spread in coastal cities.
There, smugglers detain migrants for days or weeks in warehouses or agricultural lands and inhumane conditions, including torture and deprivation of food, drink, and health care. Migrants board boats without being aware of the details of the journey, the itinerary, or the emergency safety precautions.
The Libyan government and the forces of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar should immediately release all migrants arbitrarily detained in prisons and detention centers, stop all LCG’s violent practices against migrants off the coast of Libya, stop their forcible deportations, and respect the provisions of international conventions and texts of international law in evacuating and dealing with them.
The EU should establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the financial and logistical aid provided to the LCG is not used for human rights violations against migrants. The EU should abide by the European principles in dealing with migrants' issues, urge detained migrants' countries of origin to take their role in protecting their nationals and ensuring their safety.