Burns, lashes, electric shocks and skinning – torture scenes that are usually seen in horror movies, are actually the reality for refugees trying to reach Europe through Libya. While some of them face harsh realities of detention centers, others get auctioned off as slaves.
As the situation shows no signs of improvement, humanitarian organizations have accused both the European Union and Libyan authorities of failing to aid those trapped in the camps.
Tens of thousands of refugees pour into Libya each year to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, in which thousands die. Usually, they flee war-torn Sub-Saharan African nations.
As part of a deal between the E.U. and Libya in February, Libyan coastguards work to stop vessels crossing to Europe, to reduce the migrant flow.
“The E.U. cannot continue to ignore the harsh consequences of its latest attempts to stop people crossing the Central Mediterranean. Shutting down people’s chances to escape Libya means they are trapped in a hell where they face the risk of the most horrific abuse,” Claire Seaward, Director of the Europe Migration Campaign at Oxfam told The Globe Post.
Upon their return, refugees find themselves forced into horrific camps run by the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). They face torture and other abuses from camp officials before being repatriated.
“I think the agreement between Italy and Libya is worse than the one Europe signed with Turkey, because in Turkey refugee camps were created. Whereas in Libya, concentration camps were created,” Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo said in an interview with Euro News.
“There migrants are tortured, abused, women are raped, inconceivable violence is carried out. We’ve treated some cases of migrants who’d been skinned,” he added.
A CNN investigation completed earlier this month revealed that in some cases, migrants get sold off by unscrupulous smugglers, after being turned away by Libya’s coastguard, for as little as $400.
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Young migrant from Nigeria, Victory, 21, told reporters that he spent his life savings trying to reach Europe, only to be forced into day labour by smugglers. His captors told him to work to reduce his debt, even though he was repeatedly sold off to others.
The smugglers demanded ransom money from Victory’s family for his release.
“I spent a million-plus [Nigerian naira, or $2,780],” he told CNN from the detention center, where he is waiting to be sent back to Nigeria. “My mother even went to a couple villages, borrowing money from different couriers to save my life.”
Unlike Victory, many migrants reach Libya with little or no funds, making them even more vulnerable to Libya’s prominent slave trade.
The E.U.-Libya deal, which the U.N. recently criticized as “inhumane,” is thought to be the cause of the harsh circumstances refugees face in Libya.
Human Rights Watch Researcher Judith Sutherland told The Globe Post that NGOs cannot provide adequate support to detention camps, due to security restrictions by Libyan authorities, describing their support as placing “a band-aid on a festering, open wound.”
Ms. Sutherland also slammed the Libyan authorities’ managing of the crisis, also urging Europe to take a stronger stance on addressing the Libyan authorities and helping migrants.
“European powers should press the Libyan Government of National Accord to end immigration detention except when absolutely necessary, for the shortest time possible, and only when it’s possible to ensure judicial oversight. Europe needs to provide more support – financial and political – to U.N. agencies helping to evacuate refugees and migrants out of Libya, and should offer generous resettlement places in Libya,” Ms. Sutherland added.
Last week political representatives from Europe and Africa met in Switzerland to discuss the migrant crisis and how to aid those stuck in harsh camps.
The European Union has provided aid for Libya’s migrant crisis, according to Oxfam. Yet much of the E.U.’s efforts are clearly focussed on containing the migrant issue, rather than solving it.
“This isn’t just about blocking the crossing from Libya to Italy, but also the fact that the E.U. is using aid money to stop people migrating through Africa. The E.U. has committed to expanding safe routes so people don’t have to risk losing their lives coming to Europe, but in fact only 1% of the E.U.’s new emergency fund for Africa is directed to developing safe routes,” Claire Seaward told The Globe Post.
“That suggests Europe’s real priority is stopping people moving, not saving lives.”
Some like General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) William Swing acknowledge that Libya faces financial difficulties in providing safe, humane conditions for migrants. Swing pledged to help, to end human rights abuses against detainees in Libya.
“IOM calls for all detention centers — official and nonofficial — to be closed and replaced with open centers, where migrants’ basic human rights are respected. We stand ready to provide the necessary support to the Libyan authorities that would help make this a reality.”