On Thursday, Amnesty International issued a report outlining fresh evidence of harrowing violations, including sexual violence, against men, women and children who had been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya.
Amnesty called on European states to suspend cooperation on migration and border control with Libya. Italy’s Parliament will debate the continuation of their provision of military support and resources to the Libyan Coast Guard this week.
The report also found that since late 2020, Libya’s Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), a department within the Interior Ministry had legitimized abuse by integrating two new detention centers under its control. Hundreds of refugees and migrants have been forcibly disappeared in previous years by militias.
At one recently rebranded center, survivors said guards raped women, and subjected them to sexual violence including by coercing them into sex in exchange for food or their freedom.
“This horrifying report sheds new light on the suffering of people intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, where they are immediately funnelled into arbitrary detention and systematically subjected to torture, sexual violence, forced labour and other exploitation with total impunity,” said Diana Eltahawy, the Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Meanwhile, Libyan authorities have rewarded those reasonably suspected of committing such violations with positions of power and higher ranks, meaning that we risk seeing the same horrors reproduced again and again,” she added.
“The report also highlights the ongoing complicity of European states that have shamefully continued to enable and assist Libyan coastguards in capturing people at sea and forcibly returning them to the hellscape of detention in Libya, despite knowing full well the horrors they will endure,” Eltahawy noted.
In 2020, hundreds of people who had disembarked in Libya had been forcibly transferred to an informal site, then controlled by a militia. Since then, Libyan authorities have integrated the site into the DCIM, named it the Tripoli Gathering and Return Center, colloquially known as Al-Mabani, and also put the former director and other staff of the now-closed Tajoura DCIM center in charge.
In the first half of 2021, more than 7,000 people intercepted at sea were forcibly returned to Al-Mabani. Detainees held there told Amnesty International that they faced torture and other ill-treatment, cruel and inhuman detention conditions, extortion and forced labour. Some also reported being subjected to invasive, humiliating, and violent strip searches.
Tripoli’s Shara’ Al-Zawiya center is a facility that was also previously run by non-affiliated militias and was recently integrated under the DCIM, and designated for people in vulnerable situations. Two young women at the facility attempted to commit suicide as a result of such abuse.
Three women also reported that two infants detained with their mothers had died in early 2021, after guards refused to transfer them to the hospital for critical medical treatment.
In Al-Mabani and two other DCIM centers, Amnesty International documented the unlawful use of lethal force when guards and other armed men shot at detainees, resulting in deaths and injuries.