Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya are at risk of exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention, as well as beatings, sometimes amounting to torture, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.
The briefing “We are foreigners, we have no rights” is based on fact-finding visits to Libya between May and September 2012, and examines the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Libya. During Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, foreign nationals –particularly those from Sub-Saharan Africa–lived with the uncertainty of shifting policies and fear of arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, torture and other abuses.
Following the 2011 conflict, their situation has worsened amid the general climate of lawlessness, with powerful armed militias continuing to act outside the law, and the failure of the authorities to tackle racism and xenophobia, further fuelled by the widespread belief amongst Libyans that “African mercenaries” had been used by the ousted government to crush the 2011 uprising.
“It is shameful that Gaddafi-era abuses against foreigners, especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa, have not only continued but worsened. 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,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly and consistently warned the Libyan authorities of the threat posed by the militias in Libya. We again urge them to rein in these militias, and hold them accountable. The authorities must also take concrete measures to tackle racism and xenophobia head-on, especially considering how heavily Libya relies on migrant labour.”
Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya are at risk of being arrested and detained in the streets, markets, checkpoints or their homes. Some are intercepted while trying to board boats to Europe or crossing the desert or sea.
Between May and September 2012, Amnesty International visited nine detention centres across Libya where, at the time of the 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”. The detainees told Amnesty International that they had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including beatings. Most frequently, detainees are beaten for prolonged periods with various objects such as metal wires, rubber hoses, sticks and water pipes. Many showed their scars or bruises corroborating their testimonies. rifles and sticks. He sustained several injuries including to his left eye.
Despite the risks, foreign nationals from countries such as Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan continue to enter Libya through its porous borders fleeing war or persecution or in search of better economic opportunities. Individuals entitled to international protection are caught-up in Libya’s mixed-migration flows. The Libyan authorities and militias do not make a distinction between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Because of their irregular status, individuals in need of international protection are similarly at risk of arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention and torture or other ill-treatment.
Asylum seekers and refugees in Libya remain in a state of legal limbo, as Libya lacks a functional asylum-system and refuses to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. Libya is not a state party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Protocol. For those held indefinitely for “migration offences” pending deportation, there is no possibility to challenge the legality of their detention and their forcible removal from the country.