Refugee camps in Libya

Guilty of torture and rape by association – Europeʹs dirty secret

An increasing number of refugees are being tortured and raped in Libya, a new study has found. The perpetrators, motivated by greed, sadism and the desire for power, include local European Union partners. By Nermin Ismail

It is a cycle of captivity and exploitation, violence and abuse from which there seems to be no escape. That's according to the latest study on refugees in Libya by the Women's Refugee Commission, an international non-governmental organisation. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 670,000 migrants in the North African country. It is believed that between 5,000 to 6,000 people are being held in camps there.

Employees of the Women's Refugee Commission interviewed survivors in Italy and, among other sources, spoke with crews of rescue ships. "On their journey through the desert, many refugees are kidnapped by human traffickers and armed groups or taken to official prisons," Sarah Chynoweth, the study's author, explained. She confirmed that violence, including sexual torture, is common in these camps: "It is filmed in order to put pressure on families to send money for their relatives' release. Those who cannot pay are re-sold or murdered."

The details of the torture methods are difficult to imagine. Chynoweth called the intensity and methods of sexual violence shocking. Men and women are forced to rape others, penises are cut off, and women are abused and raped until they bleed to death. Boys have to rape their sisters. "If someone had told me this before, I would never have believed it. You can only believe it if you have seen it with your own eyes," reported a survivor from Gambia.

Picture symbolising migrants stuck in a camp (picture-alliance/AFP/MINDS Global Spotlight/M. Turkia)
European refugee policy has hit rock bottom: "a continent that takes asylum law seriously must open up new avenues. The fact that they don't exist means people travel to the hell that is Libya in the first place," says Karl Kopp of the human rights organisation Pro Asyl. "Things could not be worse"

Torture in EU-funded camps

The study's findings are not new, but the magnitude and appalling nature of the details are. "These most serious human rights violations are taking place through partners of the European Union. This is what is now being expressed even more strongly," said Karl Kopp of the human rights organisation Pro Asyl.

He explained how the Libyan coast guard intercepts refugees and takes them back to torture camps. Since the traffickers' profits have fallen, they use torture to generate money. "We have seen a similar situation in Sinai, where families of women from Eritrea were blackmailed." The difference is that in Libya they are "our camps, recognised governments' European-funded camps, where the worst human rights violations are taking place," Kopp said, adding that this is being done in the name of Europe and is part of the agreement with war-torn Libya.

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