Last week, refugees and migrants, including minors, were reported to have been tortured in Libya for escaping and protesting the inhumane conditions of their detainment under Libya’s Department of Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). Most detained Libyan refugees and migrants were returned to Libya by the E.U. funded Libyan coastguard after they tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
According to Al Jazeera, 150 male detainees escaped from their large cell in Tripoli’s Triq al Sikka, where several detainees have been held for over a year. Such detainees protested and demanded attention from an official from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to eyewitnesses, Libyan guards surrounded the male refugees and migrants and beat them with sticks and metal bars. Dozens of detainees were transferred to other detention centres, while detainees suspected of organising the escape and protest were rounded up and brought to an underground cell, where they were allegedly tortured.
Refugees and migrants previously held in Triq al Sikka have reported being kept in dark cells all day with little to no light. They received ongoing physical abuse, were provided with little food and were denied medical attention. In 2018, a 28-year-old Somali man burned himself alive in the Triq al Sikka detention centre, after expressing his hopelessness about ever leaving the centre.
A spokesperson from the E.U. said that they were aware of the alleged abuse and said that “the detention centres in Libya must be closed”. Amnesty International’s Matteo De Bellis commented on the reports of abuse, “if confirmed, constitutes yet another case of brutal violence against people arbitrarily held in Libya’s notoriously abusive detention centres”. Bellis commented further that “European governments and institutions keep saying that they advocate the end of arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants, but they have not taken decisive action to ensure this would happen”.
International institutions including the UNHCR need to take this seriously. The E.U. must also end the return of refugees and migrants to Libya, where they are then held in detention centres. Detention centres holding refugees and migrants are a clear breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has been ratified by 145 states. The E.U. needs to hold Libya and itself accountable to ensure that its actions match its words, in advocating for the end of arbitrary detention.
Thousands of refugees and migrants are currently being held in indefinite detention by the DCIM. Over 150,000 were deported back to Libya after being intercepted by the E.U. funded Libyan coastguard while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The majority of those returned are from war-torn states such as Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. These refugees and migrants are at risk of gross human rights violations caused by war or dictatorships.
Overall, refugees and migrants should not be at risk of indefinite detainment or torture for seeking safety and protection from their war-torn homelands.