UN chief: Over 12,000 detainees held officially in Libya

Jan 17, 2022, 4:06 PM | Updated: 4:14 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Over 12,000 detainees are held officially in 27 prisons and detention facilities across Libya and thousands more are held illegally and often in “inhumane conditions in facilities controlled by armed groups or `secret’ facilities,” the United Nations chief said in a new report.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report obtained Monday by The Associated Press that the U.N. political mission in Libya known as UNSMIL continues to document cases of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and other violations of international law in facilities operated by the government and other groups.

He said the thousands of detainees who don’t appear in the official statistics provided by Libyan authorities — over 12,000 — are unable to challenge the legal basis for their continued detention.

“I remain gravely concerned by the continuing violations of the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya,” Guterres said in the report to the U.N. Security Council.

“Female and male migrants and refugees continued to face heightened risks of rape, sexual harassment and trafficking by armed groups, transnational smuggles and traffickers as well as officials from the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, which operates under the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

The U.N. chief said UNSMIL documented cases in the Mitiga prison facility and several detention centers run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration in al-Zawiyah and in and around the capital Tripoli, and the U.N. mission received “credible information on trafficking and sexual abuse of around 30 Nigerian women and children.”

Oil-rich Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The North African country has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.

Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

Guterres said widespread arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees continued, including those rescued or intercepted trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard.

As of Dec. 14, he said, the Coast Guard intercepted 30,990 migrants and refugees and returned them to Libya, “almost three times the total number of people returned in 2020 (12,000 people).” More than 1,300 people have died or disappeared attempting the journey, he said.

Guterres expressed serious concern at those people arbitrarily detained and those who remain homeless following widespread security operations in October by Libyan authorities in which he said “excessive and disproportionate force was used.” He said the operations targeted more than 5,150 migrants and refugees, including at least 1,000 women and children, and left families separated and children missing.

Since August, Guterres also criticized the expulsions from Libya’s eastern and southern borders of hundreds of nationals from Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan to Sudan and Chad “without due process.”

“The expulsions did not respect the prohibition of collective expulsion” and the return of people without their consent, “and placed many asylum seekers and migrants in extremely vulnerable positions,” the secretary-general said.

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UN chief: Over 12,000 detainees held officially in Libya