On Sunday, the Humanitarian Affairs Officer on board the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) search-and-rescue vessel Geo Barents, Julie Melichar, said that Libya is the point at which there is no turning back. “In Libya, there is a system to extort money from people on the move. Many migrants and refugees are kidnapped by militias and armed groups and are held captive,” Julie said in a statement.
These remarks came after more than 367 migrants were rescued by MSF off the Libyan coast. More than 40 per cent of them were under the age of 18 and 140 of them were travelling alone.
She confirmed that crossing one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes has significant psychological consequences for unaccompanied minors.
“Such a high number of young migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea – considered to be the world’s deadliest migration route – is alarming in itself. But travelling without a parent or trusted adult makes unaccompanied minors one of the most vulnerable groups of people on the move,” MSF’s official added.
She noted that those who have money can buy their freedom; those who do not are tortured or made to do forced labour until their families or friends can pay for their release. This spiral of exploitation can last for months or even years.
“Children and teenagers are not spared such atrocities. “Many of the young migrants we rescued told us they had escaped arbitrary detention, abuse and exploitation in Libya,” said Melichar. “Some had faced the loss of friends along their journey, since many people disappear or are killed in Libya.
“One young migrant told me that he was travelling with five very good friends. All five friends died in detention centres in Libya, and then this boy found himself alone. He said, he started creating trouble and yelling on purpose, hoping that the guards would beat and kill him, and he could be reunited with his friends. That would be too much for any human being to cope with. How can this be happening to children?”