Fresh evidence of harrowing violations, including sexual violence, against men, women and children intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya, highlights the grave consequences of Europe’s ongoing cooperation with Libyan authorities on migration and border control, said Amnesty International in a report published July 15. Entitled ‘No one will look for you’: Forcibly returned from sea to abusive detention in Libya, the repprt documents how violations against refugees and migrants continued unabated in Libyan detention centers during the first six months of 2021 despite repeated promises to address them.
The report also found that since late 2020, Libya’s Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), a department of the interior ministry, has legitimized abuse by integrating two new detention centers under its structure, al-Maban and Shara al-Zawiya, where hundreds of refugees and migrants had been “forcibly disappeared” in previous years by militias. At one recently rebranded center, survivors said guards raped women and subjected them to sexual violence, including by coercing them into sex in exchange for food or their freedom.
Said Diana Eltahawy, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International: “This horrifying report sheds new light on the suffering of people intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, where they are immediately funnelled into arbitrary detention and systematically subjected to torture, sexual violence, forced labor and other exploitation with total impunity. Meanwhile, Libyan authorities have rewarded those reasonably suspected of committing such violations with positions of power and higher ranks, meaning that we risk seeing the same horrors reproduced again and again.”
She added: “The report also highlights the ongoing complicity of European states that have shamefully continued to enable and assist Libyan coastguards in capturing people at sea and forcibly returning them to the hellscape of detention in Libya, despite knowing full well the horrors they will endure.”
Amnesty is calling on European states to suspend cooperation on migration and border control with Libya. Italy’s parliament is currently debating the continuation of their provision of military support and resources to Libyan coast guard.
The report details the experiences of 53 refugees and migrants previously detained in centers nominally under the control of DCIM, 49 of whom were detained directly following their interceptions at sea. Some of the overseers at these centers are veterans of the oppressive Tajoura facility, which was closed after it was hit by air-strikes in 2019.
“The entire network of Libyan migration detention centers is rotten to its core and must be dismantled,” Eltahawy concluded. “Libyan authorities must close all migration detention facilities immediately and stop detaining refugees and migrants.”
Photo: Alessio Romenz/UNICEF