Libya. Horrific detention violations highlight Europe’s shameful role in forced returns
New evidence of atrocious violations, including sexual violence, against men, women and children intercepted as they crossed the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya, highlights the horrific consequences of Europe’s current cooperation with Libya on migration and border control, Amnesty International said in a report released today.
“No one will look for you”: forcibly returned from the sea to abusive detention In libya documents how the decade-long 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 revealed that since the end of 2020, the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), a department of the Interior Ministry, had legitimized the abuses by integrating two new detention centers into its structure where hundreds of refugees and migrants had forcibly disappeared in previous years. by the militias. In a newly renamed center, survivors said guards raped women and subjected them to sexual violence, including forcing them to have sex in exchange for food or their freedom.
This horrifying report sheds new light on the suffering of those intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, where they are immediately sent into arbitrary detention and systematically subjected to torture, sexual violence, forced labor and other forms of abuse. exploitation with impunity. Meanwhile, the Libyan authorities have rewarded those reasonably suspected of committing such violations with positions of power and higher ranks, meaning we risk seeing the same horrors happening again and again.
“The report also underlines the continued complicity of European states which have shamefully continued to allow and assist the Libyan Coast Guard to capture people at sea and forcibly return them to the hellish landscape of detention in Libya, while knowing perfectly the horrors they will endure.
Amnesty International calls on European states to end their cooperation on migration and border control with Libya. This week, the Italian parliament will debate its continued military support and resources for the Libyan Coast Guard.
The report details the experiences of 53 refugees and migrants previously detained in centers nominally under DCIM control, 49 of whom were detained directly as a result of their interceptions at sea.
Libyan authorities have pledged to shut down DCIM centers riddled with abuse, but similar patterns of violations have reoccurred in newly opened or reopened centers. Illustrating entrenched impunity, informal captivity sites originally run by militias not affiliated with DCIM have been legitimized and integrated into DCIM. In 2020, hundreds of people who disembarked in Libya had forcibly disappeared from an informal site, then controlled by a militia. Since then, Libyan authorities have integrated the site into DCIM, named it the Tripoli Assembly and Return Center, colloquially known as Al-Mabani, and have also handed responsibility to the former director and other staff from the now closed DCIM center in Tajoura. Tajoura, known for its acts of torture and other ill-treatment, was closed in August 2019, a month after airstrikes that killed at least 53 detainees.
Ongoing abuse in Libyan detention centers
In the first half of 2021, more than 7,000 people intercepted at sea were forcibly returned to Al-Mabani. Detainees held there told Amnesty International that they were exposed to torture and other ill-treatment, cruel and inhuman conditions of detention, extortion and forced labor. Some also said they were subjected to invasive, humiliating and violent strip searches.
The Shara ‘al-Zawiya center in Tripoli is a facility that was also previously run by unaffiliated militias and has recently been integrated into DCIM and designated for people in vulnerable situations. Former detainees said guards raped women and some were coerced into sex in exchange for their release or essentials such as clean water. “Grace” said that she had been severely beaten for refusing to comply with such a request: “I said [the guard] no. He used a gun to push me back. He used a leather soldier’s shoe … to [kick] me of my size.
Two young women from the facility attempted to kill themselves as a result of such abuse.
Three women also said two babies held with their mothers after an attempted sea crossing died in early 2021 after guards refused to transfer them to hospital for critical medical treatment.
Amnesty International’s report documents similar patterns of human rights violations, including beatings, sexual violence, extortion, forced labor and inhumane conditions at seven DCIM centers in Libya. In the Abu Issa center in the town of al-Zawiya, detainees said they were deprived of nutritious food to the point of starving.
In Al-Mabani and two other DCIM centers, Amnesty International documented the illegal use of lethal force when guards and other gunmen shot at detainees, killing and injuring people.
The entire network of detention centers for Libyan migrants is rotten to its core and must be dismantled. The Libyan authorities must immediately close all immigration detention centers and stop detaining refugees and migrants.
Libyan “rescue” missions put lives at risk
Between January and June 2021, the EU-backed Libyan Coast Guard intercepted around 15,000 people at sea and returned them to Libya – more than in 2020 – in what they call “rescue missions”. “.
People interviewed by Amnesty International have consistently described the conduct of the Libyan Coast Guard as negligent and abusive. Survivors described how the Libyan Coast Guard deliberately damaged their boats, capsizing them in some cases, drowning refugees and migrants on at least two occasions. An eyewitness said that after the Libyan Coast Guard capsized a dinghy, they filmed the incident with their phones instead of rescuing all survivors. More than 700 refugees and migrants drowned along the Central Mediterranean Route in the first six months of 2021.
Refugees and migrants told Amnesty International that when trying to cross the sea, they frequently saw planes overhead or nearby ships that offered no assistance until the Libyan coast guard arrived. .
Frontex, the European border and coast guard agency, has carried out aerial surveillance over the Mediterranean to identify refugee and migrant boats at sea and has been operating a drone on this route since May 2021. The European navies have largely abandoned the central Mediterranean to avoid having to rescue boats of refugees and stranded migrants.
Italy and other EU Member States have also continued to provide material assistance, including speedboats, to the Libyan Coast Guard and are working to establish a Maritime Coordination Center in the port of Tripoli, mainly funded by the EU Trust Fund for Africa.
“Despite overwhelming evidence of reckless, negligent and illegal behavior by the Libyan Coast Guard at sea and systematic violations in detention centers after disembarkation, European partners have continued to support the Libyan Coast Guard to return forces people towards the very abuses they fled in Libya, ”said Diana Eltahawy. .
“It is high time that European states recognize the indefensible consequences of their actions. They must suspend migration and border control cooperation with Libya and instead open urgently needed security lanes for the thousands of people in need of protection who are currently trapped there. “
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