A group of Nigerian migrants held captive inside a detention center in Libya have been rescued after releasing a video taken on their phones. The footage went viral on social media and caught the attention of the authorities.
The migrants held in Zawiya in Libya reportedly risked their lives to shoot the video, which shows poor living conditions and people pleading for help. One of the Nigerian men who helped with the video was almost beaten to death by guards according to reports.
The video footage - dated July 7, 2018 - was then sent to France 24 Observers, a citizen journalism initiative run by France Medias Monde, in July. A man seen in the video says that the authorities in Libya were refusing to deport them.
"They don't want us to go to Europe and also, they don't want us to go back to our country," a voice off camera says in the video, which shows the squalid and crammed living conditions in the cells.
Journalists from France 24 Observers alerted the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which organizes voluntary returns from Libyan detention camps. The migrants were eventually returned to Nigeria on August 30.
"If it wasn't for that video we wouldn't have been able to come back to Nigeria, I believe that," Efe Onyeka, the 25-year-old Nigerian who shot the video, told the news agency AFP.
Business with the al-Nasr Brigade
Onyeka, the narrator of the video, said that two detained people had died on the day the footage was taken: "We are suffering here, we are dying here. They are keeping us here for business. Please, we want to go back home. We want to go back to Nigeria."
The detention facility where Onyeka filmed the appeal for help is a center that is officially run by the Libyan Government of National Accord but that is reportedly under the control of one of Libya's most influential military brigades, which is known for their human trafficking practices: the al-Nasr Brigade.
Observers journalist Liselotte Mas said that the local Zawiya Coast Guard has an affiliation with the al-Nasr Brigade, according to reports from several NGOs. However, they are also among the European Union's partners in the fight against illegal immigration. According to reports from the Washington Post, the Zawiya Coast Guard has received grants from the EU to keep as many potential immigrants as possible from entering Europe.
Reports of systematic torture
Onyeka said that everyone in his group had been beaten and tortured during their captivity:
"They used pipes and sticks. They would not give us food. We were malnourished. The water [they gave us] was from the latrine," Onyeka said. "I'm traumatized. I have nightmares about Libya, about the prison [...] The journey is not worth it."
Frank Isaiah, another inmate, reported that the guards put metal chains "around my neck and beat me for six hours outside the prison. I went into a coma and they thought I was dead."
Despite being tortured almost to death, Isaiah says that he might consider migration one more time: "IOM promised to help me get work here, but I'm still waiting for that. [...] If I don't make it here, if things remain like this without anything to do and no work, I will try my luck again with Europe, if the opportunity presents itself."
Voluntary return to Nigeria
Onyeka is one of about 2,700 migrants who have made it back to Nigeria through IOM's voluntary return program this year, said IOM Nigeria spokesman Jorge Galindo.
"It wasn't an exceptional case [because the] conditions are [generally] bad," Galindo explained.
Since the voluntary return program began in 2017, almost 10,000 Nigerians returned to their home country.