Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in Libya are trapped in a vicious cycle of cruelty with little to no hope of finding safe and legal pathways out, Amnesty International said in a new report published today. After enduring unconscionable suffering in Libya, refugees and migrants risk their lives at sea seeking safety in Europe, only to be intercepted, transferred back to Libya and delivered to the same abuses they sought to escape. This comes a day after the European Commission announced its new ‘Migration Pact’, a major pillar of which is even stronger cooperation with countries outside the EU to control migration flows.
Libya, a country torn apart by years of war, has become an even more hostile environment for refugees and migrants seeking a better life. Instead of being protected, they are met with a catalogue of appalling human rights abuses and now unfairly blamed for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on deeply racist and xenophobic grounds. Despite this, even in 2020 the EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse, showing a callous disregard for people’s lives and dignity,
The report ‘Between life and death’: Refugees and migrants trapped in Libya’s cycle of abuse documents the harrowing accounts of refugees and migrants who have suffered or witnessed a litany of abuses in Libya including unlawful killings; enforced disappearances; torture and other ill-treatment; rape and other sexual violence; arbitrary detention; and forced labour and exploitation at the hands of state and non-state actors in a climate of near-total impunity. The report also details more recent developments, including the transfer of people disembarked in Libya to unofficial places of detention – such as Tripoli’s notorious Tobacco Factory – and the summary deportation of thousands of refugees and migrants from Libya’s eastern regions.
“Libya, a country torn apart by years of war, has become an even more hostile environment for refugees and migrants seeking a better life. Instead of being protected, they are met with a catalogue of appalling human rights abuses and now unfairly blamed for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on deeply racist and xenophobic grounds. Despite this, even in 2020 the EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse, showing a callous disregard for people’s lives and dignity,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Given the Libyan authorities’ consistent failure to address long-standing patterns of abuse against refugees and migrants, including by state officials and affiliated militias, the EU and its member states must completely reconsider their co-operation with Libyan authorities, making any further support conditional on immediate action to stop horrific abuses against refugees and migrants. This would include ending arbitrary detention and closing immigration detention centres. Until then, anyone rescued or intercepted in the central Mediterranean should not be returned to Libya, but instead be allowed to disembark in a place of safety.”
Since 2016, European Union (EU) member states, led by Italy, have been collaborating with the Libyan authorities – providing speedboats, training and assistance in the co-ordination of operations at sea – to ensure people attempting to flee the country by boat are intercepted at sea and brought back to Libya. During this period, an estimated 60,000 men, women and children have been captured at sea and disembarked in Libya by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard (LCG), 8,435 of them between 1 January and 14 September 2020 alone. Driven by a desire to stop arrivals at all costs, EU states have offered their support to Libya – in an effort to circumvent international laws prohibiting pushbacks – without conditioning it upon strict human rights guarantees.
Brought back to Libya to face abuse
Refugees and migrants intercepted at sea by the LCG are brought back to Libya, where they are subjected to enforced disappearances, indefinite and arbitrary detention, torture and extortion.
When disembarked in Libya in 2020, thousands of refugees and migrants have ended up detained in official Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) detention centres, under the authority of the ministry of interior of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), in control of western Libya. But thousands more have been subjected to enforced disappearance in 2020 after being transferred to unofficial places of detention, including the Tobacco Factory (a reference to its former function) under the command of a GNA-affiliated militia led by Emad al-Trabulsi in Tripoli, amid fears for their life and safety.
Given the Libyan authorities’ consistent failure to address long-standing patterns of abuse against refugees and migrants, including by state officials and affiliated militias, the EU and its member states must completely reconsider their co-operation with Libyan authorities, making any further support conditional on immediate action to stop horrific abuses against refugees and migrants.
On land, refugees and migrants also live under constant risk not only of being arrested and sent to detention centres, but also of being abducted by militias, armed groups and traffickers. Some are tortured or raped until their families pay ransoms to secure their release. Others die in custody as a result of violence, torture, starvation or medical neglect.
Dozens of refugees and migrants described to Amnesty International witnessing the death of their loved ones while detained at official DCIM centres or in other places of captivity run by traffickers.
On 27 May 2020, armed men opened fire on around 200 refugees and migrants held by traffickers near the town of Mazda, killing at least 30 and injuring 11. The others remain unaccounted for, feared dead or abducted.
Libyan authorities’ promises to investigate the Mazda killings and other crimes against refugees and migrants have not led to accountability. Two men under arrest warrant by the Libyan prosecution and placed on the UN sanctions list for their alleged role in human trafficking retain official ties to the GNA. Ahmad al-Dabbashi, also known as “al-Amou”, was seen fighting alongside GNA forces in April 2020, while Abdelrahman Milad, also known as “Bidja”, works as an LCG commander at the al-Zawiya oil refinery.
Caught in the crossfire
Militias and armed groups have committed violations of international humanitarian law against refugees and migrants including unlawful deprivation of liberty, torture and apparently indiscriminate attacks Amnesty International verified videos showing militias and armed groups parading and abusing refugees and migrants. They have also forced migrants to participate in military operations, endangering their lives and safety.
One refugee told Amnesty International that in May 2020 a militia affiliated with the GNA took him along with other refugees and migrants from a Tripoli DCIM detention centre, where they were all detained, and forced them for hours to transport ammunition between two positions in Tripoli. At that time, fighting was raging in Tripoli.
No way out but the deadly sea
Given the horrific conditions and abuses, existing resettlement and evacuation programmes are insufficient for providing safe and legal pathways out of Libya for those in need, with only 5,709 vulnerable refugees benefiting from such programmes since 2017, as of 11 September 2020. This reflects the small number of resettlement pledges made by countries receiving refugees, including EU member states. Travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated the situation, with only 297 refugees evacuated from Libya in 2020, before borders closed in March 2020.
A refugee told Amnesty International in August: “Right now refugees [are] going to cross the sea… [There is] no evacuation and no resettlement… Refugees in Libya are at risk. [We are] between life and death.”
This means that desperate refugees and migrants have few viable ways out of Libya other than risk crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy boats. Crossings, however, continue to be extremely dangerous, including because of interceptions by LCG and criminal groups. In one deadly incident in mid-August, survivors told Amnesty International that armed men on board a boat named “Captain al-Salam 181” robbed them and then fired at their boat, causing the engine to catch fire and the boat to capsize. An estimated 40 people died after being left in distress at sea.
Exploitation, squalid living conditions, violence
Amnesty International’s research found that refugees and migrants are often exploited by employers and subjected to forced labour by militias and armed groups.
Many live in squalid conditions without access to clean water and washing facilities, increasing their vulnerability to COVID-19 with physical distancing and preventative hygienic measures impossible to follow. Despite this, refugees and migrants face barriers to accessing health care and have been largely excluded from official COVID-19 prevention efforts.
Refugees and migrants are also a constant target for robbery. Women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual violence. They refrain from approaching police or prosecutors, fearing detention or revenge by alleged perpetrators.
Racism and xenophobia
Refugees and migrants also face rampant racism and xenophobia. Government officials, members of armed groups and militias, and media often use racist language to refer to Black people. The COVID-19 pandemic has further fuelled racism, with officials and private individuals publicly blaming refugees and migrants for the spread of the virus and calling for their expulsion.
Amnesty International’s research revealed that de facto authorities in eastern Libya forcibly expelled over 5,000 refugees and migrants in 2020 without due process or the opportunity to challenge their deportation. The accusation that those arrested were “carriers of contagious diseases” was among the reasons cited for the deportations.
In a blatant incident of discrimination documented by Amnesty International, an armed group prevented a bus from entering the south-eastern city of Kufra, unless three Chadian nationals alighted. The armed men ordered them to take a COVID-19 test and left them in the desert outside the city. The other passengers, all Libyan nationals, were allowed to proceed without the need for COVID-19 testing or other checks.
The plight of refugees and migrants in Libya is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing armed conflict, insecurity and lawlessness. The struggle for governance and territorial control rages between the GNA, in control of most of western Libya, and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, in control of most of eastern Libya
Edo goes after assets, properties of traffickers
The Edo State Government plans to go after the assets and properties of persons behind the wanton trafficking of indigenes of the state.
Governor Godwin Obaseki told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja yesterday that proceeds from such properties would be ploughed into the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees.
Convicting the perpetrators and liquidating their assets, according to the governor, will serve as a deterrent to others who are still scouting for vulnerable Nigerians to traffic.
The governor, who was among guests at an event held at the British High Commission in Abuja on Thursday, however, said that the state had been hindered by delays in prosecution.
He said whereas government had recruited competent prosecutors, judicial processes, long adjournments and handling of victims’ testimonies were delaying government’s move to get convictions.
He said: “We have been able to intensify investigation and prosecution. But unfortunately, we have not been able to get any conviction.
“Not because the prosecutors are not doing their utmost best, but because of the very nature of our legal system.
“We are working very hard with the high courts and NAPTIP to ensure that we get convictions.
“This can serve as a deterrent and punishment to the perpetrators, ensuring that they lose property and they lose assets with which we will now use in supporting the rehabilitation of victims.
“We will work with the judiciary to try and reduce the long adjournments and also the way they treat evidences from victims.
“Many of these victims are afraid of revealing information on their traffickers because of threats, but we are taking measures to provide safe houses for them and to provide cover for them until we are able to get prosecutions.”
The governor said that in the last four years under his watch, the number of persons trafficked from the state had reduced with rehabilitation and reintegration of over 6,500 returnees.
He said that the focus for the government, working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), is to re-humanise the victims and restore their dignity.
He added that the government also, in the process of rehabilitation, extracts information from the victims in a bid to understand the scope and nature of the network.
“We have rehabilitated over 6,500 victims of trafficking and irregular migration working with partners like the IOM.
“We have also used the opportunity to extract a lot of data to understand the nature and scope of all these trafficking network and crisis.
“With that information, we now understand what drives people and what have driven people to be trafficked, the areas they come from, their social situation and economic situations.
“That has helped us to put strategies in place to combat trafficking in Edo state.
“You would see from records available that the incidence of trafficking and irregular migration in Edo state over the last three years has dropped dramatically,” he said.
JIFORM to African leaders: give youths social security to combat human trafficking
As the world marks the 2021 Day Against Trafficking In Persons on July 30, the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) has urged government in Africa to pay more attention to the social security schemes to stem the tide of human trafficking on the continent.
The global media body with over 300 journalists covering migration across the continents is hosting its 3rd global migration summit in partnership with the Altec Global Inc, Toronto Canada and others at the Niagara Falls in the country between November 29 to December 6, this year.
The President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi in a statement noted that “the major pull factor of human trafficking in Africa is poverty. The youths being trafficked need jobs, shelter, security and empowerment. Before we can ensure that the victims’ voices lead the way as the theme of the 2021 anti-human trafficking day implies, every government on the continent must not pretend on the relevance of improved socio- economic status for their citizens. Time to do needful is now by being honest and set aside undue semantics and theories.
“We salute the doggedness of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) in Nigeria. The law establishing the agency should be reviewed to mandate the leadership of the agency to be totally professional and hierarchically structured as uniformed organization.
“NAPTIP needs more funding to recruit more hands and have its presence in the 774 local governments in Nigeria. The agency should be more strategically involved in the migration process of mostly young Nigerian ladies to be sure of their mission at the airports through collaboration with the Nigeria Immigration Service.
“Youth empowerment is very key to any preventive measure. Poverty, economic hardship and ignorance are the major weapons being used by the traffickers to sway victims in Africa especially Nigeria.
“Therefore, for the theme of this year’s anti-human trafficking day to be meaningful in Nigeria and Africa, JIFORM agrees totally that listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking are very important. Survivors are key actors in the fight against human trafficking.
“But how well have we re-integrate many of them into the society? The victims play a crucial role in establishing effective measures to prevent this crime, identifying and rescuing victims and supporting them on their road to rehabilitation.
“We cannot agree less with the United Nations that many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced revictimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support. So, we must rise to implement the preventive measures and defend the victims.
“Learning from victims’ experiences and turning their suggestions into concrete actions will lead to a more victim-centered and effective approach in combating human trafficking. The media too must play its roles to carry out more campaigns to complement what is expected from the government” Ajibola added.
IOM rushes to help refugees as deadly monsoon rains wreak havoc in Bangladesh
Cox’s Bazar – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today many of the more than 13,000 Rohingya refugees forced out of their camps by flooding in Cox’s Bazar which has killed at least six people were returning to their shelters to salvage belongings after a break in heavy rains, but the risk of more casualties remained high.
IOM said a total of more than 21,000 refugees had been affected and almost 4,000 shelters were destroyed. Food distribution centres, health facilities and water points have been damaged during three days of non-stop rain.
The six confirmed dead were killed in landslides or drowned in two IOM-managed camps and officials fear more flooding and landslides will prevent help reaching others among the total of 884,000 Rohingya refugees in the country.
Access to the camps is hazardous as constant landslides block the main roads leading to the camps, and major routes used by refugees and humanitarian actors are under water.
Up to 2,000 people have been evacuated from landslide-prone areas in Teknaf upazila (sub-district).
“Heavy rainfall is expected during the next few days, and as such, challenges are likely to increase,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
“Over the past few months, IOM has been assessing the risk of landslides, strengthening drainage networks, installing slope protection measures and upgrading key pathways. However, despite multiple disaster risk reduction measures being implemented, the camp congestion, excessive rain and poor soil quality, make it extremely difficult to cope with the elements,” Pereira said.
One hundred Rohingya Disaster Management Unit (DMU) volunteers trained in each camp have been working around the clock and focusing on helping the most vulnerable, including the elderly and pregnant women. IOM teams are assessing the damage and working closely with the different sectors to refer those affected for relevant assistance. Mobile medical teams have been deployed and the protection emergency response unit has been activated.
Staff on the ground are clearing drainage pipes, repairing damage and distributing emergency shelter kits, core relief items, and aquatabs to prevent waterborne diseases.
IOM has sent in Cyclone Preparedness Programme volunteers to urgently assist host community members.
Families have taken refuge in six different multi-purpose cyclone shelters where they are currently being assisted with relief items, protection and medical support. Since 2019, IOM has been supporting the rehabilitation of MPCS so community members can take shelter in case of disasters.
The current flood emergency further exacerbates the massive humanitarian needs of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. After almost four years since the latest influx of Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, IOM is relying on its partners to continue to support the response.
Additional support is needed to enable teams to continue to assist those affected, as well as the rest of the refugees currently residing in the camps. As always, IOM advocates for the continuation of a comprehensive humanitarian assistance for refugees across all camps.
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