Migrants and refugees beaten, killed and tortured in Tripoli roundup

A blitz of more than 5,000 arrests has tripled the Libyan capital’s detainee population, says MSF

In this 2017 file photo, migrants and refugees wait to be helped by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, as they crowd aboard a rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea north of Sabratha, Libya. AP

Aid groups are warning of a mass roundup of migrants and refugees in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, with a threefold spike in the numbers of those crammed into squalid cells and cases of beatings, torture and even death.

The charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said a five-day blitz of more than 5,000 arrests had seen the number of detained migrants and refugees triple and that it was “profoundly disturbed by the increase”.

Earlier the Norwegian Refugee Council, another aid group, said 500 migrants, including women and children, had been caged and faced “torture, sexual violence and extortion” in the city’s lawless lockups.

The warnings came on the heels of a UN probe that this week found refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere transiting through Libya to Europe routinely faced egregious human rights violations.

“We are seeing security forces take extreme measures to arbitrarily detain more vulnerable people in inhumane conditions in severely overcrowded facilities,” MSF’s Ellen van der Velden said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Entire families of migrants and refugees living in Tripoli have been captured, handcuffed and transported to various detention centres.”

According to MSF, more than 5,000 migrants and refugees have been rounded up since Sunday, with government security forces raiding family homes and subjecting targets to physical and sexual violence. One young migrant was killed and others were injured.

The charity identified one refugee, named Abdo, who told of masked security men raiding his home, tying his hands behind his back, hitting his head with the butt of a gun and dragging him out of the building. He later escaped, MSF said.

Those arrested were taken to Shara Zawiya, Al Mabani and other state-run detention centres, where many are forced to stand for long periods in overcrowded cells without access to food, water or toilets, the group said.

Libya’s mission to the UN did not immediately answer The National’s request for comment.

The alleged round-up of migrants in Tripoli follows a report from the UN's Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which found that abuses against migrants there may amount to crimes against humanity.

Chaloka Beyani, a UN investigator, said migrants and refugees endured a “litany of abuses” when in detention and at the hands of people traffickers and those running clandestine ferry routes across the Mediterranean Sea.

“Violations against migrants are committed on a widespread scale by state and non-state actors, with a high level of organisation and with the encouragement of the state — all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity,” Mr Beyani said.

Separately, at least 17 bodies, likely of Europe-bound migrants, washed ashore in western Libyan town of Zawiya and were discovered on Tuesday, the Libyan Red Crescent said. More than 1,100 migrants have died in boat mishaps and shipwrecks off Libya this year.

Libya spiralled into chaos after the Nato-backed 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The North African oil exporter has since become a transit route to Europe for those fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.

Libya is largely governed by local militias, many of which profit from people trafficking. MSF, Human Rights Watch and others say migrants traversing Libya have been tortured, raped and subjected to forced labour at the hands of officials and people smugglers.

Updated: October 06, 2021, 3:50 PM