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Oxfam and its partners are hearing new accounts of murder, torture and other horrific abuses being suffered by refugees and other people who have fled through Libya, a place they call “hell.”
EU interior ministers are meeting in Tallinn today to approve plans for more cooperation with Libya in order to stop people from entering Europe, particularly into Italy.
Oxfam is highly concerned that these plans will only increase the suffering of people on the move. Oxfam says that European governments should be supporting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and generally treating migrants in a more fair, transparent and legal manner.
In the last months, Oxfam and its Italian partners Borderline and MEDU interviewed 158 migrants who had arrived through Libya. 84 percent of them said they had experienced degrading and inhumane treatment, extreme violence or torture in Libya. A vast majority – 74 percent – said they had witnessed people they had been travelling with being murdered or tortured. A similar proportion told of deprivation of water and food. 70 percent of people said they had been detained in official or unofficial prisons while in Libya.
C.B., a 28-year-old man from The Gambia, was imprisoned for seven months in Libya until the prison was attacked by a gang and he managed to escape. He said he had worked in Libya but never got a salary before his employer sold him to the ‘Asma boys’, a criminal gang. “There were about 300 people in the prison. (…) I was made to do all kinds of work, sometimes they brought me to do robberies at night. There was hardly any food. They beat me continuously and violently, sometimes they tortured me.”
K.M. a 27-year-old mother from Ivory Coast, said she was tortured and raped in Libya. “One day a group of soldiers entered our home. I was terrorised. They were shouting and waving their guns. They beat us and I was violated in front of my brother and my daughter. My brother tried to defend me and was savagely beaten. They took my daughter as well and violated her with fingers.”
Oxfam International’s Deputy Director for Advocacy & Campaigns, Natalia Alonso, said:
“Libya is a fragile state that needs peace and security. EU governments should focus on that instead of looking at Libya as a migration gateway to Europe that they must close. The EU must provide humanitarian support and any announced security initiatives must aim to better protect people, especially the most vulnerable groups including migrants.
“In February, EU member states backed a dodgy Italian deal with Libya that has no safeguards for human rights and international law. The United Nations estimate that over 1.3 million people in Libya need humanitarian assistance and it was specifically worried about the levels of abuse being suffered by migrants. Cooperation with Libya as a way to stop people from reaching Europe only risks exposing these people to even more intensive suffering and even death, and deals a serious blow to core European values.”
Ministers are also expected to call for increasing the capacity of so-called migration ‘hotspots’. These are areas set up by the EU and Italian authorities to register new arrivals and return those who are rejected more swiftly. Hotspots have no legal foundation in Italian and EU law so it is not clear how they can respect European and international law either.
A recent report on “hotspots” by the European Court of Auditors said that many people are being forced to live in inadequate conditions. Children’s welfare was being put at risk. While the hotspots may be yielding faster decisions and more expulsions, many people were being shut out of the asylum system, left stranded and even more vulnerable as a result.
Oxfam says that for this policy to continue, the Italian Government and the EU must enact clear rules for hotspots that ensure that human rights and international standards are respected. Authorities must urgently improve living conditions there and ensure that each migrant receives a fair assessment of their asylum claim, including information in languages they people can understand.
EU governments are also discussing new rules for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean – with the possible aim of further limiting NGOs search and rescue operation and, ultimately, people’s options to reach Europe’s coasts.
Oxfam’s Natalia Alonso said:
“Search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean are an essential response to save the lives of people in danger. Search and rescue operations must be kept for this purpose, not used as a way to manage migration. Ultimately, EU member states must expand safe and regular routes for people so they are not forced to risk their lives in search of safety and dignity.”
Notes to editors
- The testimonies in this press release are part of wider Oxfam research that will be presented this summer.
- The accounts have been collected by Oxfam and its partners in the past months. The 158 interviews with migrants who had travelled through Libya were conducted by mobile units of the “Open Europe” project which offers support to people who have fallen through the nets of the official reception system in Italy. Overall, the project has offered assistance to more than 900 migrants in Sicily.
- According to the United Nations, 1.3 million people in Libya are in need of humanitarian assistance. They also highlight that “migrants and refugees transiting or staying in Libya face particularly dire living conditions and are victims of physical and mental abuses, discrimination, forced and unpaid labour, financial exploitation, gender based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, and marginalization.”
- In April, the European Court of Auditors has criticized appalling gaps in the EU’s ‘hotspot’ approach for receiving migrants.
C.B. (Male, 28, The Gambia)
“I arrived to Libya in May of 2016, after having crossed Mali and Algeria. I found a job in Sabratha, with an Arab who didn't pay me. After a while he sold me to the “Asma boys”, a criminal gang. First, they locked me up in the Bani Walid prison for 17 days and then transferred me to Sarman prison. There were about 300 people in the prison. They told us to give them money and to ask our families to pay a ransom, otherwise we wouldn't be released. I didn’t have the money, nor family I could ask for it. They forced me to work. I was made to do any kind of work, sometimes they brought me to do robberies at night. There was hardly any food. They beat me continuously and violently, sometimes they tortured me. After suffering all the violence and torture, I now have problems moving my arms and get intense headaches. My eyesight has worsened as they often beat me in the face. I was imprisoned for 7 months until the prison was attacked one day by a rival gang and I managed to escape during the conflict. Many people were left dead or seriously injured.”
K.M. (Female, 27, Ivory Coast)
“I ran away from my country because I didn't want my daughter to be infibulated, like I was as a child. I didn't want my daughter to suffer like I did. I left my country and joined my brother in Libya. One day a group of soldiers entered our home. I was terrorised. They were shouting and waving their guns. They beat us and I was violated in front of my brother and my daughter. My brother tried to defend me and was savagely beaten. They took my daughter as well and violated her with fingers. Now I'm here and I'm scared. This centre is no good for my daughter. One evening we were queuing up for the meal and a man slapped her because he said she was talking too much. I'm scared. I don't sleep at night. I don't feel safe. There are lots of men who drink in this big camp. Lots of people can enter where we sleep. I'm scared: they can harm me and my daughter.”
Florian Oel | Brussels | email@example.com | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60
Read more on Oxfam's response to the refugee and migrant crisis