Traffickers in Libya are accused of keeping migrants under inhumane conditions to extort their families for money | Photo: Narciso Contreras/Hans Lucas/Imago
Traffickers in Libya are accused of keeping migrants under inhumane conditions to extort their families for money | Photo: Narciso Contreras/Hans Lucas/Imago

According to IOM Libya, 1,067 migrants were intercepted by the Libyan authorities and brought back to Libya between January 1 and January 7. Conditions for migrants in Libya are consistently being described as "undignified" and "inhumane."

The Libya office of the UN Migration Agency (IOM) regularly tweets updates about the numbers of migrants who are intercepted by the Libyan authorities in the Mediterranean and sent back to Libya. According to their latest message, posted on January 9, a total of 1,067 migrants were intercepted and sent back to Libya between January 1 and January 7 this year.

The interceptions took place over five different days and included 379 men, 53 women and 10 children. 625 migrants with no recorded gender were also part of the group of 1,067.

There was also one death was recorded so far this year.

In 2022 through the whole of the year, according to IOM Libya 24,884 migrants were intercepted and sent back to Libya. That is fewer than the numbers recorded in 2021 when 32,425 migrants were intercepted and sent back to Libya.

Interceptions in 2022

During the last week of 2022 between December 25 and 31, the IOM recorded a total of 1,088 migrants intercepted and sent back. However, in the previous week during the period between December 18 to 24, the IOM stated that no migrants were recorded as being intercepted and sent back to Libya.

Meanwhile, 525 people are recorded as dying and 891 recorded as missing throughout the whole of 2022.

The IOM, the UN and numerous humanitarian organizations have repeatedly stated that Libya should not be considered a safe place to which to send migrants and refugees. However, despite these statements, the EU continues to contribute money to the Libyan coast guard in order to prevent migrants leaving Libyan shores, or to prevent them from reaching international waters.

In Libya, the IOM also helps run voluntary returns programs; towards the end of December, it reported the return of 290 migrants to Mali and Sudan aboard two charter flights.

Not so 'voluntary' returns

However, in the last quarter of 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) published reports suggesting that some migrants felt their rights had been violated even through such "assisted returns" programs.

In a report published on October 11, 2022, the OHCHR found that "migrants are frequently compelled to accept assisted return to escape abusive detention conditions, threats of torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, extortion, and other human rights violations and abuses."

The report added that because of conditions in Libya, "collectively, these conditions have created a coercive environment that is often inconsistent with free choice."

The report found that even though the voluntary returns program are branded as a free choice, often the migrants didn't really have any choice other than to take any opportunity available to them to get out of Libya.

One Gambian man who testified to the report's authors said that when he was returned to Libya he was brought to a prison. The man said that "even at that point I didn't think about going back to Gambia."

"Then they entered the prison with a stick and were beating people like animals. Sometimes they would take your money and good clothes. They broke my teeth," he said, adding that it was at this point that he decided to accept the offer of a return program.

'I was only offered to go back home'

Another interviewee told the authors of the report that he felt he had "no chance" to ask to seek protection in Libya or elsewhere. "I was only offered to go back home," he said.

Another migrant, using the pseudonym Omar*, told OHCHR that on being returned to Libya, he had been forced "to work for a few months [while I was] in a detention center in Tripoli." Omar added that "when I refused to work because of exhaustion, I was beaten until I asked to be taken back to work.

"I [was taken outside where I] cleaned roads and houses, worked in farms and was never paid. I had little food and no drinkable water. When they offered me to return, I agreed. I wanted to stop the beating and the tough work."

Since 2015, more than 60,000 migrants have been repatriated to different countries of origin across Africa and Asia through assisted voluntary return programs, notes OHCHR. Previous UN reports about the conditions faced by migrants in Libya have also branded the country "unsafe and undignified" for migrants, saying that the authorities operate a "lethal disregard" in their treatment of migrants.

'Now I am back at zero'

Furthermore, the report also found that many migrants were being returned to the "same unsustainable conditions that may have compelled them to migrate in the first place, such as extreme poverty, persistent food insecurity, including as a result of the adverse effects of climate change, lack of access to decent work, health and education, family separation, poor living standards and denial of the right to development."

In addition, returned migrants, stated the UN, often face "additional personal, financial and psychosocial burdens as a result of their failed migration project and the severe trauma they experienced in Libya."

One migrant returned to Gambia said he felt like he had been brought back to "zero or worse." Using the pseudonym Momodou*, he said that his failed migration journey had resulted in him losing all the money his family had collected to pay for his journey.

In prison in Libya, he said he was beaten so badly he lost an eye. He told the UN that he was back at where he had started but "with only debts and nightmares."

*A pseudonym used by the UN to protect this person's identity.


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