Dashed hopes: Migrants' risky journey to Europe through Libya

AFP , Wednesday 24 Aug 2022

Godwin risked everything for a better life in Europe, but he was detained and ransomed in Libya by European Union-backed authorities.

Libya Detainees
Migrants who were detained by Libyan authorities on a boat off the coast are held ahead of their deportation at a detention centre in Surman, about 67 kilometres west of Tripoli, on May 12, 2022. AFP

 

Godwin risked everything for a better life in Europe, but he was detained and ransomed in Libya by European Union-backed authorities accused of "extreme abuse" against captured migrants.

The 34-year-old Nigerian had paid 1,100 euros ($1,100) for a place on an overcrowded vessel from the Libyan port of Zawiya, heading for Italian shores via the world's deadliest migration route.

"It was night when I got on the boat, it was already dark. I didn't know (where we were going)," he said, giving only his first name. "I just wanted to go to Europe and have a good life."

Those hopes were dashed when a Libyan patrol boat approached.

Godwin said he was so reluctant to avoid going back to Libya that he considered throwing himself into the sea.

But he was detained and dragged back to Libya, where he was only released after his family paid a 550 euro ransom.

His is far from the only case.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch claimed that some 32,450 people had been intercepted by Libyan forces last year and "hauled back to arbitrary detention and abuse" in the war-ravaged country as European countries turned a blind eye.

HRW accused the EU's border agency Frontex of using a drone to provide information that "facilitates interceptions and returns to Libya ... (despite) overwhelming evidence of torture and exploitation of migrants and refugees".

The migrant-run @RefugeesinLibya Twitter account regularly posts images of refugees allegedly killed by Libyan forces or tortured to extort money from their families.

Refugees in the country are "tortured by European taxpayers' money, dehumanised and deprived in all forms," it said in a recent tweet.

That chimes with a report in October by United Nations experts, who said acts of "murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment (and) rape" against detained migrants in Libya may amount to crimes against humanity.

None of this has stopped the European Union funding and working closely with the Libyan coast guard to prevent migrants reaching northern Mediterranean shores.

The accusations against Europe are not limited to financial support.

Alarm Phone, a group running a hotline for migrants needing rescue, this month accused Malta of failing to launch operations to rescue migrants in danger, "despite their obligations to do so" under international law.

"Alarm Phone has witnessed this non-assistance policy in action innumerable times," it said, accusing Malta of "abandoning boats at risk of capsizing" within the island's search and rescue zone.

From the start of January until August 20, almost 13,000 migrants have been intercepted and dragged back to detention in Libya while trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Some have been detained, while others have been sent home or simply allowed to leave the overcrowded detention centres.

A further 918 were either dead or missing.

Libyan authorities deny reports that migrants are abused.

"The arrests are carried out according to the rules in place," a migration official said.

But many argue that the long years of fighting since a NATO-backed revolt toppled and killed longtime ruler Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 has left the country dealing with some instability.

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