Are Migrants in Libya Being Sent to Unofficial Detention Facilities?


In the first seven months of 2021, more than 15,000 migrants were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

However, only about 6,000 of the migrants who were captured were being held in designated migrant detention facilities.

The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) chief of mission in Libya, Federico Soda told the New Yorker that “the numbers simply don’t add up.”

He believes migrants are disappearing to “unofficial” detention facilities run by militias and traffickers, which the United Nations has accused the Libyan Coast Guard of collaborating with, the New Yorker reported.

In addition to the country’s fifteen recognized detention centers, the number of unofficial detention sites has “mushroomed” in recent years, according to the IOM.

International aid organizations have raised concerns about reports they have received of conditions in both official and unofficial migrant detention centers. Countless survivors and escapees have recounted their sexual abuse, extortion, and even torture at the hands of guards.

Many migrants use Libya as a transit point before setting off for Europe, which has hardened its stance toward newcomers and financially backed the Libyan Coast Guard, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The perilous journey is made by thousands for a variety of reasons, including forced displacement, economic opportunities, and fleeing war and persecution, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Osman, a Sudanese immigrant who fled the conflict in Darfur and was later held in Libya’s largest detention center, told Amnesty International how the guards subjected detainees to torture: “When they beat you, it’s to the level of death: you wish for death. They would come drunk at night and harass people until the morning.”

Mass arrests conducted by Libyan authorities last month have exacerbated the already dire conditions within the centers. Aid organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who have sent staff and volunteers to the centers, have reported extreme malnourishment and starvation, overcrowding, and a lack of basic amenities like toilets, sleeping mats, and clean water.