Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Held Indefinitely in Deplorable Conditions in Libya

Press Release
June 19, 2013

Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Held Indefinitely in Deplorable Conditions in Libya

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The Libyan authorities must act immediately to end the indefinite detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, including children, solely for immigration purposes, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today on World Refugee Day.

The briefing, Scapegoats of Fear: Rights of Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Abused in Libya, highlights the unacceptable treatment of thousands of foreign nationals, many of whom hail from sub-Saharan Africa. The individuals are subjected to arbitrary arrests and held for long periods in deplorable conditions at immigration detention facilities described by the Libyan authorities as "holding centers," with no immediate prospect of release or redress in sight.

Amnesty International visited seven holding centers in April and May this year and found evidence of ill-treatment, in some cases amounting to torture. Many detainees were also denied medical care and some were slated for deportation on medical grounds.

"The torture and ill-treatment we uncovered at holding centers is unacceptable and is a stain on the record of post-Gaddafi Libya," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy program director of Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty International documented several cases where detainees, including women, reported being subjected to brutal beatings with water pipes and electric cables. In at least two detention centers, the organization received testimonies from detainees being shot with live bullets during riots. One man who was shot in the foot was then tied to a bed and hit in the lower back with a rifle butt, rendering him unable to walk or stand up four months later.

Libya's immigration detention practices not only violate the country's international obligations under refugee and human rights law and standards, but they are also at odds with the Europen Union's (EU) human rights obligations, as well as EU standards concerning the detention and return of third country nationals.

Amnesty International urges the EU, and member states, not to enter into further agreements on migration control with Libya until the government demonstrates that it respects and protects the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and puts in place a satisfactory system for assessing and recognizing claims for international protection.

Migrants in Libya are often perceived to be a threat to national security. Since May 2012, the Libyan authorities have deported 25,000 persons who allegedly entered Libya "irregularly." Thousands were held in detention for months before their deportation, without access to a lawyer or the ability to challenge their forcible removal and/or detention.

"The Libyan authorities must amend their legislation by setting a maximum detention period pending deportation for migrants," Hadj Sahraoui said.

The organization also found evidence that the Libyan authorities have resumed deporting foreign nationals diagnosed with infections such as hepatitis or HIV after compulsory medical tests were reintroduced earlier this year.

At the time of Amnesty International's visits, a total of 5,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were held in 17 holding centers under the Ministry of Interior, in addition to an unknown number of detainees held by militias. The organization's delegates also met a small number of unaccompanied children, sometimes as young as 10, who had been detained in at least three holding centers for months.

"Denying detainees proper medical care is simply inexcusable," Hadj Sahraoui said. "Libya's government must show the world it is serious about protecting the rights of all individuals in Libya, whatever their status and nationality."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.