Documentary Reveals Situation in Libya’s Notorious Migrant Detention Centres


A startling documentary has recently brought to light the abhorrent conditions and human rights abuses occurring within Libya’s migrant detention centres. Produced by anonymous filmmakers concerned about potential reprisals, the film offers a rare inside look at the dire living conditions for these individuals, including refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers from various nations.

The documentary offers first-hand testimonies of routine beatings, forced labour, sexual abuse, torture, and even murder.

The youngest detainees are reported to be under five, while the oldest are in their 70s, with a majority being men under 25. Interviewees spoke of the insufficient provision of food, water and medicine. Conditions are further worsened by diseases like tuberculosis due to unsanitary conditions. Victims detailed how they are kept in crowded and unventilated rooms where the meagre food supply is slid under locked doors.

Many captives find themselves in these centres after failed attempts to cross the Mediterranean by boat, with hopes of reaching Europe. Some are kidnapped and others are arrested by Libyan immigration police. Controversy has arisen from accusations that boats carrying these migrants are either ignored or redirected back to Libya by Maltese authorities, often in collaboration with the Libyan coastguard.

Harrowing accounts from the sea voyages include scarcity of supplies, overcrowding, rampant disease, and frequent death. One individual described having to drink seawater for survival, while another reported severe skin burns due to an engine leak.

Despite international law prohibiting the return of asylum seekers to countries where they face persecution, these “pushbacks” continue. This continues after boats carrying migrants are allegedly photographed by aircraft suspected to belong to EU’s border agency Frontex. Although criticised for its militia ties, Libya’s coastguard continues to receive significant European Union (EU) funding as part of the bloc’s efforts to control illegal migration.

Getting out of the detention centres requires payment that most detainees cannot afford, having already exhausted their resources on smuggling fees. A detainee said, “if we left our countries with no money, how can they expect us to pay?” Even when funds are sourced, freedom isn’t guaranteed. Those who pay are often sold to smugglers or other detention centres for more money or are made to work off their debts through forced labour. Escape attempts are deadly, and those unable to pay are reportedly executed.

Approximately 5,000 people, including foreign citizens from various nations, are believed to be held across Libya’s detention centres. Organisations like the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International have condemned these centres. The spotlight from this documentary amplifies the urgent need for action and reform to address this humanitarian crisis.