An investigation by the Wall Street Journal reveals that an increasing number of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean by the Libyan coastguards are being sent to unofficial detention centers when they return to Libya. Exercise, violence, extortion and even executions are often practiced there. According to the UN, at least 3,000 migrants have been missing since the beginning of the year.
“The situation of vulnerable people and especially migrants is the worst we have known in Libya for years,” warns Safa Msehli, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). According toa Wall Street Journal reportpublished Monday, July 13, cases of exploitation, kidnapping and torture of migrants have exploded since the beginning of the year in Libya. These acts are mainly carried out by militias in unofficial detention centers, while the families of the victims are being relocated.
Often hidden in empty warehouses or abandoned factories, these unofficial centers are veritable lawless areas where the conditions of detention are inhuman: migrants are forced into dozens of rooms without lights, without access to water or toilets and deprived of real meals. They are also abused, often filmed and sent to their families, who have to find huge sums of money to try to save them.
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Unfortunately, the approximately $ 12,000 sent by Juwel Howladar’s family was not enough to secure his release. The 24-year-old Bangladesh is one of 30 migrants who were shot dead in late May in a smuggled warehouse in Mezda, southwest of Tripoli, to avenge the death of one of their prisons, which occurred a few days earlier under unknown circumstances. Juwel Howladar’s sister told The Wall Street Journal that he had taken dozens of messages from his dying brother in tears shortly before his death while his captors electrocuted him.
Although not quantifiable and not locable, unofficial detention centers such as those in Mezda have existed since Libya became a transit country heavily used by illegal migrants dreaming of Europe. The Danish Refugee Council’s Libyan office estimates that 10% of the country’s 800,000 migrants and refugees have gone through one of these unofficial prisons at least once in recent years.
Two new official detention centers are coming
The Libyan government has promised to attack these centers for several years, but the civil war that has erupted since April 2019 and the continuous arrivals of undocumented migrants, he says, complicate his efforts.
There are also the thousands of migrants captured at sea by the Libyan coastguards, under an agreement reached a few years ago with the European Union, to reduce the flow of illegal landings on the shores of the Old Continent. “We have observed in recent months that many intercepted migrants are then sent to unofficial detention centers when they return. There are currently 3,000 missing,” said IOM Safa Msehli, contacted by InfoMigrants. “We call on the Libyan government to clarify the fate of these people.”
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Tripoli also promised last year to close at least four of its eleven official detention centers to eventually end the arbitrary imprisonment of undocumented migrants in Libya. But the results are too long delayed. Although some official centers such as the Tajoura bombed in July 2019 were emptied several months ago, the government’s policy does not seem to be going in the right direction: “IOM has been informed that two new center officials will be open in the coming days or weeks. still no control over the management of these centers, so we continue to demand the release of the detained migrants and for alternative solutions, ”concludes Safa Msehli.
Since the beginning of the year, the Libyan coastguards have been intercepted and taken back almost 6,000 migrants.