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Activists ring alarm: Refugees face torture and exploitation in post-Gaddafi Libya

Published time: November 14, 2012 02:01
Edited time: November 14, 2012 08:17
A man sits at at a camp for refugees from Tawargha in Benghazi January 31, 2012.(Reuters / Esam Al-Fetori)

A man sits at at a camp for refugees from Tawargha in Benghazi January 31, 2012.(Reuters / Esam Al-Fetori)

Foreign nationals without proper documentation are being exploited, indefinitely detained or even tortured, Amnesty International reports. According to Amnesty the conditions for undocumented foreigners are worse than in the Gaddafi era.

The Amnesty International report says refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Libya are being subjected to serious human rights violations that extend far beyond what they experienced under Muammar Gaddafi.

“It is shameful that Gaddafi-era abuses against foreigners, especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa, have not only continued but worsened,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, said at the briefing “We are foreigners, we have no rights.”

The report is based on Amnesty International fact finding visits to Libya between May and September. The trips revealed that foreign nationals are being abused by armed militias, who act outside the law.

“The Libyan authorities must acknowledge the extent of the abuse by militias and put in place measures to protect all foreign nationals from violence and abuse, regardless of their origin or immigration status,” urged Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Photos from the Amnesty International report ′We are foreigners, we have no rights′
Photos from the Amnesty International report 'We are foreigners, we have no rights'

Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya are absolutely unprotected by law. They can be arrested and detained in the streets, markets, checkpoints or even at home.

Some arrests are carried out by the Libyan police, but most of the operations are conducted by militiamen, who sometimes act violently, confiscating mobile phones, money and other valuables.

In detention centers foreign nationals face further humiliation. During five months Amnesty International visited nine detention centers across Libya and talked to detainees, who say they are being subjected to torture and beatings. 

Women at such centers are also vulnerable to sexual assault as none of the facilities for female detainees had female guards.
The report says that at the time of Amnesty International visits “some 2,700 foreign nationals, including pregnant women, women with young children, and unaccompanied children detained alongside adult strangers, were held for “migration-related offences”. 

A Nigerian woman told Amnesty International that she was beaten and given electric shocks while in detention. “The world needs to know what is happening to us [Sub-Saharan African nationals] in Libya. For Libyans, we are not even human. I did not do anything wrong. I just came here to work. Now I am locked up for months, and don’t know what will happen to me. There is nobody here to help me. ”

Huda Bel-Eid, a woman from Tawergha who was shot in the leg, sits in Tripoli Hospital in Libya, February 6, 2012. Bel-Eid claims that militiamen from the city of Misrata shot her as they tried to arrest other refugees. The refugees resisted and the men fired on her, she said.(Reuters / Ismail Zitouny)
Huda Bel-Eid, a woman from Tawergha who was shot in the leg, sits in Tripoli Hospital in Libya, February 6, 2012. Bel-Eid claims that militiamen from the city of Misrata shot her as they tried to arrest other refugees. The refugees resisted and the men fired on her, she said.(Reuters / Ismail Zitouny)

Post-Gaddafi violence

The Libyan authorities and militias do not make a distinction between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, the organization says. All of them are similarly at risk of arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention. The lack of a functional asylum-system in Libya and its refusal to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UN Refugee Agency leaves tens of thousands of asylum seekers and refugees in legal uncertainty.

According to Amnesty International one of the most frequent accusations Africans face in Libya is that they were “mercenaries” for Gaddafi`s regime. Since the regime was ousted last year the government launched a crackdown on Gaddafi supporters.

In May the UN Support Mission in Libya reported that thousands of those who allegedly supported Muammar Gaddafi were detained in secret prisons. Some of the detainees were being tortured, activists said.

Meanwhile, post-Gaddafi chaos does not seem to be coming to an end with armed militia thriving throughout the country. The government forces are busy pursuing former Gaddafi supporters and failing to tackle violence in the country. In October a three week siege of Bani Walid resulted in humanitarian catastrophe in the city, as residents were left without food, power and medical supplies.

Displaced people from the city of Tawarga walk near prefabricated houses built for workers at a construction site, which is now used as a refugee camp, on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.(Reuters / Youssef Boudlal)
Displaced people from the city of Tawarga walk near prefabricated houses built for workers at a construction site, which is now used as a refugee camp, on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.(Reuters / Youssef Boudlal)

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