By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 13 November:
Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya are at risk of exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention, as well as beatings, sometimes amounting to torture, a prominent human rights group has said.
In a new report, “We are foreigners, we have no rights”, Amnesty International claims that the situation for migrants, asylum seekers and other vulnerable foreign nationals in Libya is now worse than it was during the Qaddafi era.
Under Qaddafi, foreign nationals, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa, were subjected to 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”, Amnesty claims. The rights group criticises what it calls “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 regime”.
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 alleged 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”, the report claims.
In September 2012, a group of Somalis failed in an attempt to escape from the Khoms detention centre. They told Amnesty International they were severely beaten by armed men in civilian clothing after being recaptured.
One of the Somalis, 19-year-old Mohamed Abdallah Mohamed described being kicked and dragged along the ground, punched in the eye and beaten with rifles and sticks. He sustained several injuries including to his left eye.
Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya are at risk of being arrested and detained in the streets, markets, checkpoints or their homes, Amnesty says. Some are intercepted while trying to board boats to Europe or crossing the desert or sea.
The report also warns that foreign nationals are vulnerable to financial extortion, exploitation and forced labour both inside and outside detention. Their fate is very dependent on luck and the goodwill of the Libyans they come across.
Some foreign nationals are arrested by the Libyan police, but most are apprehended by armed militiamen. Militia members carrying out such arrests are sometimes violent, confiscating mobile phones, money and other valuables.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly and consistently warned the Libyan authorities of the threat posed by the militias in Libya”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“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.”
The rights group also warned that the lack of a functional asylum-system in Libya leaves refugees and asylum seekers in a state of “legal-limbo”, a situation made worse by what Amnesty calls the government’s “refusal” 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.
Libyan officials have said that some 4,000 foreign nationals were deported from Libya between January and September of this year. The deportation procedure does itself raise further concerns for their safety, with essential safeguards to ensure they are not persecuted upon their return home yet to be put in place.