Tripoli's SSA security force are reportedly torturing, beating and humiliating migrants in detention facilities after intercepting their boats in the Mediterranean. The SSA indirectly draws money from funds provided by the EU as part of the bloc's efforts to stem the flow of migrants to European shores, the report added.
Libyan militia forces enlisted to stop migrants from reaching Europe are becoming more aggressive, the news agency Associated Press (AP) reported on Friday, 22 July, citing more than a dozen interviews with migrants.
Though migrants have long been targeted and brutalized in Libya, rights groups and former detainees say the abuse is taking a more organized and dangerous form under Libya's notorious Stabilization Support Authority (SSA) – an umbrella group of militias – AP reported.
Who is the SSA?
The SSA is led by Abdel-Ghani al-Kikli, also known as "Gheniwa." He has been accused by rights group Amnesty International of war crimes and other rights violations over the last decade.
Established in January 2021 as a security force recognized and funded by the Tripoli government, the SSA has risen to become one of the primary forces executing Libya's European Union-backed effort to stop the flow of migrants to Europe, AP wrote, citing officials.
The EU has supplied Tripoli with more than $500 million (€490) since 2015 to boost Libya's coast guard, reinforce its southern border and improve living conditions in detention centers run by the Interior Ministry.
Libya's official migrant control bodies like the coast guard are supposed to be monitored by the EU and United Nations to prevent human rights violations. Though "In reality, abuses have been rampant," AP reported.
The SSA, meanwhile, reports directly to Tripoli's presidential council and is allegedly not subject to scrutiny. In the last two years, the alliance has received around $37 million from Tripoli, AP said, citing government officials and Amnesty International.
SSA also indirectly draws money from the funds provided by Brussels, AP reported, citing a former coast guard chief.
'They keep beating you for hours'
In interviews with AP, more than a dozen migrants (who requested anonymity fearing retaliation) recounted their abuse at the hands of the SSA while being detained in a detention facility in the Libyan town of Maya. They had been trying to flee Libya when they were picked up by the SSA and placed in a detention center controled by them.
One Moroccan man told AP he and some 50 other migrants were intercepted at sea then severely beaten, abused and tortured for weeks at a detention center. He said the armed men wore badges that revealed their affiliation with the SSA.
Another captured migrant, Rabei, a 32-year-old from Egypt, told AP he saw guards repeatedly beating migrants into unconsciousness, then drag them away.
"They keep beating you for hours, with anything they have – clubs, rifle butts, iron bars. Or a few of them just keep hammering at you with kicks and punches and rifle butts," Rabei was quoted as saying. He was held for three months until he could pay some $650 (€638) in ransom money.
"Eventually you just wish you were dead from all the beating," he told AP.
Separately, Libyan Crimes Watch, which is based in the Hague, Netherlands, and Amnesty International have reported widespread abuses at the Maya prison, including torture, rape, forced labor and forced sex work. They also note severe overcrowding and lack of food, water and health supplies. Up to 1,800 migrants have been held at Maya prison since its creation, the organization Libyan Crimes Watch estimates.
The UN and other rights groups, however, don't have access to the detention facilities, AP reported, citing Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the UN Migration Agency --International Organization for Migration (IOM).
EU officials did not respond to AP's requests for comment on the SSA, the news agency said.
With AP. This was based on a feature for AP by Samy Magdy.