17 July 2015

A recent report by the North Africa Mixed Migration Task Force shows that the appalling detention conditions faced by migrants and refugees in Libya have forced more people to try cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Although severe abuses in Libya immigration detention centres have been denounced by numerous human rights groups long before the 2011 conflict, the Task Force stressed that the current political instability in Libya “provides an even more fertile ground for violation and abuse against non-nationals.”

The Task Force highlighted that immigration detention in Libya is far from being applied as a deterrent to access its territory. From the 45 interviews conducted by the Task Forces with African nationals who reached Europe, after having been detained in Libya, a pattern of severe human rights violations has emerged. The report lists arbitrary arrests and detention, no recourse for complaints, recurring beatings, risk of sexual violence for female detainees, deplorable sanitation conditions, inadequate food and lack of medical assistance being the   main findings identified from the interviews. Furthermore, unaccompanied children are held in detention in the same cells as male adults.

The Task Force stressed that these practices clearly amount to violations of international human rights law. However, it is hard to determine who should be held accountable for those violations due to the current political fragmentation and lack of clarity about the groups controlling immigration detention centres. The Task Force reiterated that migrants should not be automatically detained, and, on the contrary, immigration detention should be used as a measure of last resort. Until a political solution is found in Libya, the Task Force urged the different governing actors to take some measures in migration detention centres to ‘alleviate the situation’, such as: introducing a maximum detention period and limiting the cases under which detention can be applied; registering detainees in a systematic way; introducing some elements of due process (including access to legal representation, involvement of the judiciary in decision-making); ensuring that detention of vulnerable migrants (such as children, women, refugees) is in line with human rights standards; allowing international organisations and NGOs to provide legal assistance to detainees.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 17 July 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.