Crimes Against Humanity… What Happens Inside Migrant Detention Centers in Libya?

Crimes against humanity are taking place within migrant detention centers in Libya. Footage has emerged showing a woman dead on the floor of a migrant detention center in Libya, providing a chilling glimpse into the conditions faced by refugees in the North African country. The video, believed to have been filmed two weeks ago and shared with The Guardian newspaper by a group that arrived in Tunisia from Libya, shows a room inside the Abu Salim detention center in Tripoli.

Acts of Violence

According to the British newspaper, the video shows a woman pointing to the overcrowded room where hundreds of asylum seekers are packed onto beds. A Nigerian woman can be heard shouting, referring to the facility as a “prison.” The 30-second clip concludes with an image of a woman suffering from malnutrition, appearing dead on the floor, naked, with her eyes open. The Nigerian woman says, “This woman died; she passed away this morning.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and a United Nations source confirmed the authenticity of the video, stating that it was filmed in Abu Salim.

The newspaper continued, stating that numerous non-governmental organizations have reported repeated acts of violence against refugees and migrants held in the facility. In June 2021, automatic weapons were fired at detainees, resulting in casualties, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. Last week, the organization announced it would cease its medical activities in Tripoli by the end of the year.

A United Nations source stated that the woman featured in the video, believed to be Somali, likely died from tuberculosis. Dozens of asylum seekers detained in Abu Salim have contracted the disease, with relief workers reporting that they are confined to overcrowded rooms filled with mattresses and lacking medical care.

Libyan Investigations

Ibrahim, a man from Sierra Leone currently in the Tunisian capital, stated that “the only way to leave Abu Salim is by paying a ransom of $1,000.” A woman from Sierra Leone said, “There is no other way to leave Abu Salim; this place is hell.”

The Libyan Refugee Agency, run by refugees and asylum seekers, stated that it is investigating the case. A police spokesperson stated, “We are trying to identify this woman; of course, there are always challenges in collecting information about deaths and torture in Libya. Victims and witnesses hesitate to tell these stories, requiring special attention to gain their support.”

Vincent Cochetel, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, stated, “These horrifying images remind us that conditions in Libyan detention are not improving, and we must all continue our efforts to end arbitrary detention.”

The British newspaper noted that thousands of refugees and migrants are held in detention centers across Libya, officially managed by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration and overseen by the Ministry of Interior. Relief workers have documented brutal beatings, sexual violence, extortion, and mockery in detention centers across Libya, which are used to house individuals forcibly returned by the Libyan coast guard, supported by the European Union, after attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. A report by Amnesty International in 2021 claimed that guards forced women to have sex in exchange for water and fired at detainees. 

The Libyan authorities have pledged to close detention centers operated by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, which are rife with violations. However, human rights violations continue in recently reopened or open detention centers.

A report by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2021 concluded that conditions in migrant detention centers in Libya could amount to potential crimes against humanity.

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