Migrants taking part in a sit-in protest to demand that the international community takes them out of Libya | Photo: ANSA/ACHIVE/EPA/STRINGER
Migrants taking part in a sit-in protest to demand that the international community takes them out of Libya | Photo: ANSA/ACHIVE/EPA/STRINGER

The aid organization Oxfam has denounced that over 20,000 migrants who were taken back by coast guards to Libya in 2021 have gone missing.

Over 80,000 migrants were intercepted by Libyan coast guards in the last five years while 20,000 who were taken back to Libya in 2021 have gone missing, aid organization Oxfam said in a statement on Monday, January 31.

The UK-based organization went on to say that thousands who are taken back to Libya or who are detained in official centers risk ending up in "clandestine" facilities.

Such facilities are controlled by traffickers or local armed groups who "survive on the industry of abductions," Oxfam said, denouncing the consequences of the Italy-Libya signed in 2017.

The organization included in its report several stories of "abuse and torture" endured by unaccompanied minors who were aided in Italy by the humanitarian group.

Also read: Libya: 70 migrants freed from Bani Walid secret prisons

Over 8,000 reported dead in central Med since 2017 accord

Oxfam denounced the agreement, urging Italian parliament to revoke it and reinstate search-and-rescue missions in the central Mediterranean.

"Nearly one billion euros was the cost for Italian taxpayers of an agreement that doesn't stop tragedies at sea: over 8,000 have died along the central Mediterranean route since 2017", Oxfam said.

The appeal -- made on the eve of the anniversary of the signature of the bilateral memorandum on migration -- called for the immediate revocation of accords with Libyan authorities and the restoration of search-and-rescue missions in the central Mediterranean.

Last week, a report circulated to EU officials and seen by the Associated Press (AP) showed that Europe is determined to continue supporting Libyan authorities to intercept and return migrants to Libya, despite a number of admissions in the report, including an acknowledgment that Libyan authorities are known to have used "excessive force" against migrants.

Also read: EU plans further cooperation with Libya on migrants, despite criticism

Minors report abuse

Oxfam included in the statement dramatic reports of abuse endured in Libya by minors such as one of a boy from Bangladesh who was hosted in Italy and identified with the pseudonym Said: "They would close us in a room, made us undress and beat us with a plastic tube."

After a two-year-long trip, "a few days before the arrival, after holding me in the garage of a home where dozens of other migrants were detained, they took me to Tripoli in the back of a car for 37 hours with a little bread and water," the boy was quoted as saying in the statement.

He said traffickers then forced his family to pay money so he could have his passport back while he was working on a construction site. After two weeks, he was kidnapped by another armed group. The group also asked for a ransom. "My jailers forced me to call home and if I wasn't able to talk to anybody they would hit me", he said.

With great sacrifice, Saif's family was able to pay the ransom and the boy reached Italy after two failed attempts and more requests for money, also from Libyan police, Oxfam wrote.

"During my second attempt" to reach Italy "Libyan coast guards blocked the rubber dinghy 14 hours after departure," Said was quoted as saying.

"They took us to a prison. There were 56 of us in a room with the lights always on. They only gave us food twice in a week. They closed me in a room, stole the few things of value I had, slapped me and hit me with a plastic tube."

Blackmailing a commonplace practice

There are many reports by migrants about blackmailing and extortion in Libyan jails and detention centers. InfoMigrants has received many testimonies over the years, and in November reported about a technique used by Libyan jailers involving the publication of photos of the detainees on Facebook. The aim is to make the relatives of the detainees pay for their release after seeing their photos online.

Daouda*, a 19-year-old migrant from Guinea, had to ask his father for money to get out of prison. "But by the time [he] got the money together, it was already too late," his sister told InfoMigrants. The young man died in prison, shot by the guards during an escape attempt.

Salif*, who has already tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya six times, explained to InfoMigrants that "when migrants are sent back to a Libyan port, they are immediately transferred to a detention center. Again, you have to pay to get out and the amount is 3,000 Libyan dinars (about €550 euros). The first question the guards ask us when we arrive is: 'Who has money to get out of prison?'"


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