Reportage. More than 1,000 people have been arrested by Libyan Coast Guards in recent days and sent to Sabha, a remote prison where migrants are raped and tortured.

Sabha: The desert internment camp is Europe’s migrant solution

Tortured by human traffickers, migrants are now being enslaved by “regular” militiamen. Italy’s agreement with Libya, pushed by the E.U., shows the inhumane face of a West that wants to reject migrants, no matter the costs.

Doctors for Human Rights Italy, or MEDU, an NGO of doctors for human rights, has denounced the situation in a new report. It has collected 2,000 testimonies in camps where the Libyan militias hold migrants who have been detained by the North African Coast Guard off the coast. More than 1,000 people have been arrested in recent days by Libyan Coast Guards, according to the Libya Herald website. Eight boats carrying 1,074 people were intercepted at sea near Sabratha.

In total, the Libyan forces have captured around 3,000 migrants in several operations this week, the highest volume since mid-July. This is an evident sign that the Libya-Italy route has not been closed, despite the decline in migration flows to the country. MEDU said the arrested migrants are then locked up in detention centers where they live in awful conditions, especially in Sabha, a sort of fortress in the desert in southeastern Libya.

The group reported that the camp is surrounded by barbed wire, and militias armed with machine guns walk throughout the perimeter. Inside, there are two separate sectors: one for men and the other for women and children. Here, according to MEDU, atrocities are committed. Migrants are then repatriated, with the help of the international migration organization, or freed and left in the hands of traffickers and militias.

According to data announced by the office of the prime minister, since mid-July to today, only 6,500 people have landed in Italy, 15 percent of the average for the period 2014 to 2016. This drop is likely due to the Italian-Libyan agreement on migrant management, which, according to MEDU’s complaints, conceals a reality of horror and mistreatment of those who are intercepted and shipped to the camp.

Since the beginning of the year, according to Interior Ministry data, there have been 100,541 landings, 22 percent fewer than in the same period last year, when 129,225 people arrived to Italian shores. These numbers prove how thousands of people, from the sub-Saharan countries and beyond, remain trapped in Libya, victims of the traffickers and militias.

Pietro Bartolo, the Lampedusa physician featured in the documentary Fire at Sea, spoke about the atrocities against the migrants, who return from journeys through hell and explain the horrors from the cots at his clinic. There, Bartolo heals physical wounds, but he cannot remove the violence they bring in. “It is not true that migrants carry serious illnesses. The true illness they suffer from is psychological trauma,” he says. “They have suffered unheard of violence. I find cases of people who have been tortured, with evidence of flaying on their skin.”

All women landing in Lampedusa, after traveling through Libya, have suffered sexual violence, Bartolo said. Some of them report they have been treated with hormone therapy, to prevent them from getting pregnant, and subsequently sold as prostitutes. “In Libya, black people are not considered human, women are considered a subspecies,” he says.

Libya has dozens of unofficial centers where migrants are being tortured and humiliated and even killed barbarously. Just in Tripoli there are 13: Children, women and men are locked in sheet metal containers, crammed in like beasts, with so little space that migrants take turns lying down to sleep. Those who become ill are destined to die because doctors cannot enter these camps.

Traffickers circumvent the agreements with Libya by moving from one city to another. If until recently the outposts of criminal smugglers were located in Zawhia, about 50 km from Tripoli, or Sabratha, now many traffickers are moving to other areas, like Garabulli, 100 km to the east. They’re exploiting the confusion that reigns in the North African country.

Europe’s other gateway is also closing. Ankara’s Interior Ministry has announced that more than 10,000 migrants and refugees were detained by Turkish authorities last week as they attempted to cross the border with the European Union or to enter the country. Out of the 10,071 people detained, Ankara claims that 665 were intercepted at sea. During the same period, 93 alleged migrant traffickers were arrested.

These figures have risen sharply over the last few months. In particular, the Black Sea route is more frequented, which starts from northern Turkey and leads to the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania.

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