Many people are still trapped in captivity and suffering abuses in Libya a year after Italy struck an EU-backed deal with the government to stop irregular migrants.
Migrants who have managed to escape Libya following the deal have told Oxfam and its partner Borderline Sicilia of on-going kidnapping, murder, rape and forced labor.
Under the Libya deal, the EU and Italy have trained and provided logistical and financial support to the Libyan coastguard. This cooperation contributes to stopping people trying to escape Libya and to sending them back there, Oxfam and Borderline say.
The organisations also say that Italy and the EU should immediately end the deal with Libya and all activities aimed at returning people to Libya, including the cooperation with the Libyan coastguard.
Italy signed the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the UN-backed government in Tripoli on 2 February 2017 which EU heads of state and government endorsed a day later at their Malta informal summit.
The deal lacks sufficient safeguards for human rights and international law, since Libya has refused to sign the 1951 refugee convention that protects people who flee persecution and conflict.
Oxfam believes that the EU’s support to the Libyan coastguard adds to the suffering of the people trapped in Libya.
Recent efforts by the African Union, the EU, and the UN to release migrants from detention centres are welcome, Oxfam says, but they do not reach the majority of migrants stranded in Libya because Libyan authorities recognise only a handful of nationalities as deserving of international protection.
Oxfam Italy’s executive director, Roberto Barbieri, said:
“The people we have spoken to are escaping war, persecution and poverty – and yet in Libya they encounter another hell. European governments have a duty to protect the human rights of all people, including migrants. Migrants crossing the sea to escape Libya should never be stopped and returned back to the serious danger there.
“The Libya migration deal is fundamentally flawed, and people are suffering in horrific conditions. Italy must end the deal immediately. A new agreement must prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all those in Libya who require help. Instead of trying to stop migrants from leaving Libya, the EU must focus on liberating all migrants – regardless of their nationalities – from the detention centres they are in.”
Libya is a country highly destabilized by conflict, where more than 1.3 million people need humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. This includes internally displaced people, Libyans who have returned home as well as the hundreds of thousands of migrants from other countries who came to Libya for work or to continue their journey in search of safety and dignity. UN agencies are specifically worried about the levels of abuse being suffered by those migrants.
Last August, Oxfam and its partner organisations Borderline and MEDU exposed accounts of suffering, based on 158 interviews with migrants who had arrived through Libya. 84 percent of them had said they had experienced degrading and inhumane treatment, extreme violence or torture in Libya. 74 percent said they had witnessed people being murdered or tortured.
The new testimonies gathered by Oxfam’s partner Borderline Sicilia following the Italy-Libya migration deal indicate that the situation has not improved for many people in the country. Migrants continue to tell how they are often kidnapped to extort money, of men being forced to work without a salary and women raped and forced into sexual slavery. One person told of children being sold as slaves.
Precious, a 28-years old from Nigeria, said she was imprisoned with other migrants when she arrived in Tripoli. “They asked for money which we did not have. They treated us like trash. We only ate once per day, a bit of rice or raw pasta, and drank water from old gasoline barrels.” She said she saw several people die from illness or from violence from their captives. “The women among us were beaten and raped every day – only then did they give us anything to eat,” she said.
Blessing, a 24-year old Nigerian, said she came to Libya to find a job as a maid. “Instead they brought me to a center where I stayed for many months,” she said. “They put a fistful of rice into my hands to eat each day. They sold my body to local men. When I tried to escape, they beat me violently and raped me.”
Francis, a 20-year old man from The Gambia, was kidnapped by a criminal gang, he says. “There were more than 300 people held in one big room. I was there for five months. […] Every day we were forced to work. Anyone who opposed this was killed.”
Francis’ testimony also includes accounts of beatings and sexual violence against women and of the fate of children hold in unofficial prisons. “The women were systematically beaten and raped by groups of people. The children were raised in the prison and then sold as servants to Libyan households.”
Europe must expand what efforts it has made to help end the suffering of migrants in Libya, Oxfam says.
“Europe will not solve the problems that drive displacement and migration with policies that focus on border control and deterrence. The EU should instead provide safe routes for people fleeing hardship and ensure a fair and transparent process when they claim asylum”, says Barbieri.