“They get drunk, and then do what they want to us. They touch us, take off all our clothes, and we have to pay to get out.” No less than 1,300 such firsthand accounts have been collected by the staff of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), and they form the basis of the recently published report on human rights violations in Libya over the past 20 months (“Desperate and Dangerous: Report on the human rights situation of migrants and refugees in Libya”), covering the period until August 2018.
The report describes a climate of constant abuse, rapes, ill treatment, forced labor, blackmail of families, lack of hygiene, malnutrition and lack of medical care in the 11 detention centers visited by the UN agency, located across the country, from the east to the west and from the coast to the deep south, on the border with Nigeria. Most importantly, the horrors involve not only people smugglers but also the state officials and militias that are part of the government in Tripoli, supported by the international community. One chapter brings serious accusations against the Libyan Coast Guard of the Serraj government, which Italy has been supplying with equipment, vessels and training, and which our country has given free rein to patrol and “assist” the boats at sea, forcing the meddlesome NGOs to stay away.
Since the start of 2017, 29,000 migrants have been returned to the Libyan inferno by the coast guards employed by Tripoli. Two Sudanese women who attempted the crossing on Jan. 18 told the UN agency a revealing story about how these people operate. After eight hours at sea, they were intercepted by the Coast Guard, their boat approaching at a high speed, making such large waves that the migrants’ boat was in danger of capsizing. They started beating up the migrants and mocking them, telling them that “there is no Italy for you.” Then, they gave juice and biscuits, but only to Palestinian and Syrian women and their children, giving the black children nothing. The lighter-skinned women were brought down into the cabin, while the others were left out on the deck.
Other eyewitness accounts from the Sabha migrant detention center, managed by an individual known as “Gateau”, speak of horrible tortures and of prisoners being forced to bury the dead. At Sabratha, drunken guards shoot people for no reason, and women are left to bleed to death in childbirth, assisted only by other prisoners, with the only medical instrument being a dirty knife and without even any hot water. In Bani Walid, they poured gasoline on the leg of a woman from the Ivory Coast and burned her because she could not pay a ransom of $1,000. In the Gergaresh center in Tripoli, Nigerian women aged from 15 to 22 were forced into prostitution behind a curtain in a large “connection house” (brothel) run by the Libyan guards. In the center of Tarikal-matar, also in Tripoli, it took the intervention by UNSMIL to evacuate some 1,900 migrants during this summer’s fighting. Others were moved by the Abu Salim militias to places even closer to the falling bombs, and others managed to escape.
The UN report concludes with a number recommendations: first of all to the European countries, whom the UN is asking to no longer consider Libya a safe country for migrants and asylum seekers under any circumstances. Then, the report demands that the Libyan authorities, first of all, change the laws dating back to 1987 and 2010, from the time of Gaddhafi, which do not recognize threatened persons and the rights of refugees and criminalize immigration outright, forcing detainees to be imprisoned as adibat—slaves—or pay at least 1,000 dinars.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR has expressed its satisfaction for the arrival in Italy on Thursday of 103 refugees evacuated from Libya (among whom are 56 women and 36 minors, of which 5 are unaccompanied). This is the first group accepted through the humanitarian channel set up by Catholic NGOs, who were able to stay at the new transit facility opened a few weeks ago in Tripoli by the UN. The women had almost all been raped, and one had had an abortion and was in a serious state of malnutrition.