Nigerian Migrants Face ‘Unimaginable Horrors’ in Libya

According to a new UN Report, Nigerian migrants endeavoring to transit Libya on their way to Europe face ‘unimaginable horrors’ from the moment they enter the country, throughout their entire stay there and during their attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea.  According to the Report, which was generated by the United Nations’ political mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and covers a 20-month period up to August 2018, its findings are based on 1,300 first-hand accounts gathered by UN human rights staff in Libya, as well as accounts from repatriating Nigerian returnees or those who miraculously managed to cross into Italy.

The accounts of the Nigerian migrants range from unlawful killings to gang rape, prostitution, arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment, unpaid wages, slavery, human trafficking, racism and xenophobia. Women are forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day in Libya.  Narratives detail human rights abuses committed by traffickers (many of whom are also Nigerian), smugglers, and a host of Libyan state actors and armed groups.  The Report goes on to note that “countless migrants and refugees lost their lives during captivity by smugglers after being shot, tortured to death, or simply left to die from starvation or medical neglect.”  Moreover, “across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert.”

Furthermore, “since early 2017, the approximately 29,000 migrants returned to Libya by the [Libyan] Coast Guard were placed in detention centres where thousands remain indefinitely and arbitrarily, without due process or access to lawyers or consular services.” UN officials visiting these detention centers noted torture, ill-treatment, forced labour, rape, starvation, severe beatings and burnings with hot metal objects.  There were also narratives of migrants who were electrocuted, sold into slavery and held for ransom, as their family members in Nigeria were extorted.

According to a UN independent human rights expert on torture, Nils Melzer, given the human rights abuses and violations in Libya, transfers and returns to Libya amount to a violation of the international legal principle of “non-refoulement” which protects asylum seekers and migrants against returns to countries where they have reason to fear violence or persecution.

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