With rich oil reserves and a small population, Gaddafi’s Libya relied heavily on migrant labour to serve the economy. During the conflict hundreds of thousands of migrants fled to Tunisia, Egypt and neighbouring countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, fearing for their lives. More than six months since the conflict’s end, migrants and refugees in Libya continue to be victims of grave violations of their human rights.
The situation in the country has not yet stabilised and there is no central power capable of governing of the whole territory. So armed militia groups and individuals have taken it upon themselves to decide on the treatment of migrants, outside of any legal framework. Throughout the country, armed militias control, arrest and detain migrants in improvised retention/ detention camps. Invoking security concerns to justify the “clean-up of illegals”, they hunt migrants down, with Sub-Saharan Africans as their prime targets.
The mission delegation visited 5 camps in Tripoli, Gharyan (in the Nafousa mountain area) and Benghazi. The investigation found that migrants are commonly captured as they pass through checkpoints or arrested in their homes. Those considered to be “illegal” are transported to camps run by militia brigades (Katiba), beyond all control of government authorities. Living conditions are deplorable. The mission heard numerous accounts of degrading treatment, physical violence and humiliation. Women, young children, unaccompanied minors and persons in need of medical treatment are among those detained. Migrants and refugees live in fear without any prospect of legal redress and no access to national or international bodies. Some are deported and returned to their countries of origin on charter flights organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM); some are offered work by camp directors with employers outside the camps and find themselves in conditions of forced labour; some are able to buy their way out by paying camp guards; while others are simply set free when camps become too crowded.
Migrants leaving the camp to work for a local farmer, with the agreement of the guards. Supposedly, migrants are paid 10 dinars a day.
The mission delegation heard numerous reports of the existence of complex networks of traffickers, armed militia groups and unscrupulous employers, who profit from the vulnerability of migrants by extorting money ($700-$1000) and exploiting them on their journeys.
Under the guise of combating “illegal” migration, Libyan coast guards collaborate in EU policy aimed at externalising border controls, by intercepting migrants off the Libyan coast. The new authorities have continued implementation of agreements concluded under the Gaddafi regime and have called on the EU and member states, and in particular Italy, to renew financial, material and technical assistance, invoking the threat of invasion by migrants transiting through Libya. The mission collected testimonies from refugees suggesting that the practice of refoulement of migrants to Libya is continuing in violation of international obligations (which were affirmed in a recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, Hirsi v. Italy, 23 February 2012).
FIDH, Migreurop and JWBM express deep concern about the general climate of xenophobia and the particular expressions of racism against black Africans. Accused during the conflict of being mercenaries fighting for Gaddafi, they continue to be victims of prejudice, accused of bringing disease, drugs and crime into the country.
The delegation found that Eritrean, Somalian and Ethiopian refugees lack any protection and survive in the most vulnerable legal and social conditions, without residency or work permits. Refugees fleeing countries in the Horn of Africa have no more chance of being granted international protection in neighbouring countries than in Libya itself. So they turn towards Europe for the protection and assistance to which they are legally entitled. But European policies on border control prevent any possibility of legal entry into EU territory and oblige these men, women and sometimes children, to risk their lives on boats, attempting to avoid detection by the Libyan coast guards.
Tens of thousands of internally displaced Libyans from the town of Tawargha also live in conditions of extreme insecurity. Collectively accused of conspiring with the Gaddafi regime and of crimes against the population of Misrata, the inhabitants of Tawargha fled to seek refuge, mainly in Tripoli and Benghazi, where they currently live in camps, hardly daring to go outside because of fear of persecution, assassinations and other violence committed by armed militias from Misrata seeking revenge.
The current absence of any judicial system with the capacity to investigate crimes and prosecute those responsible undermines any possibility of reconciliation in the short term and leaves the door open to individual acts of vengeance.
FIDH, Migreurop and JWBM make the following recommendations:
- To the Libyan authorities: to put an immediate end to arbitrary and repressive practices against migrants by militias and to establish migration policy based on human rights and the rule of law.
- To the international community, and in particular to European states: to cease reliance on Libya for the implementation of their migration policies; and to accept refugees from Libya, so that these persons are no longer obliged to risk their lives travelling across Libya and attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea.
- To EU member states, and in particular Malta and Italy, to renounce all practice of interception at sea and refoulement of migrants to Libya.
- To foreign companies resuming investments in Libya and employing migrant labour : to ensure that all contracts require strict respect of the rights of migrant workers, including concerning wages, social protection and living conditions.