Screenshot of a video posted by migrants of their protest on Facebook on Sunday, 12 August / Photo: InfoMigrants

Libya: ‘Help us get out of this hell!’ – Migrants hold rare protest

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A group of migrants recently held a ground-breaking protest in Libya. The protesters, most of whom were Ethiopian or Eritrean, forced open the doors of a detention centre, where they were being held, and marched towards the capital, Tripoli, which is about 20 kilometres away.

They demanded help from the United Nations as well as human rights organisations. Since they first arrived in Libya in 2015, these migrants have been kidnapped, tortured, and trapped in detention centres. Now, they want to leave Libya as soon as possible.

The group posted photos and videos of the protest on Facebook on Sunday, 12 August, in the hopes that they would be shared widely.

Twenty-two-year-old Aman (not his real name), who is from Ethiopia, was one of the protesters. He talked to FRANCE 24 about the protests:

“For the past three months, we’ve been trapped in a detention centre in the village of Qasr Ben Ghashir [located about 25 kilometres to the south of Tripoli].

Employees from the local United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office came to visit us when we first arrived in the detention centre, back in May. They wrote down our names and they said that they would evacuate us from Libya soon. But we haven’t heard anything from them since.

We forced open the doors of the detention centre and marched towards Tripoli. The security forces dispersed our group by firing warning shots. Then, we started negotiating with them. They promised that they would help us leave the country.

Kidnapped and tortured after their arrival in 2015

Our group was made up of around 120 people and included quite a few women and children. We all arrived in Libya in 2015, in the hopes of reaching Europe by crossing the Mediterranean.

However, we were all kidnapped by criminal groups and locked up in a hangar in the town of Beni Oualid. The kidnappers would sell us to traffickers. These men would film themselves torturing us with electricity and send the videos to our friends and family to extort money from them. They would ask for anything from $1,000 to $6,000. The worst was that, even after they received the ransom, the kidnappers refused to release us.

We were freed by the Libyan security forces last May. Then, we were transferred to the detention centre in Qasr Ben Ghashir. However, even if this is an official detention centre, we don’t trust the Libyans anymore. Anyone here can kidnap you, torture you or even kill you. We just want to leave this hell as quickly as possible. We don’t care where we go next. That is why we are begging the UNHCR to accelerate the procedure for evacuating us.”

This photo was taken by the migrants while they were being held captive by kidnappers in Bani Oualid. They were frequently tortured during their captivity / Photo: InfoMigrants

The group of migrants were transferred on August 16 to yet another detention centre, located near the ministry of the interior in Tripoli.

Many Eritreans flee their country to escape its totalitarian regime, and are eligible for refugee status under the UNHCR. This protects them from being returned to their country of origin.

A spokesperson for the UNHCR, Paula Barrachina Esteban, said that the agency was working on the case of these migrants.

“For the time being, the solutions are limited”

We are in the process of looking for solutions for these people and for all of the other refugees currently trapped in Libya.

These people are resettled in a third country as soon as possible, but, for the time being, the solutions are limited and depend on each individual case.

We have launched an appeal for countries willing to welcome refugees.

For the time being, 12 countries have offered a total of 3,886 places to refugees who are currently in Libya or Niger. But we need more spots. In 2018, the UNHCR in Libya registered close to 55,000 asylum claims.

The other solution is to evacuate people to Niger. As part of our emergency transit system, asylum seekers can go to a camp run by the UNHCR in the capital, Niamey. From there, the asylum claims are examined on a case by case basis.

This camp is just a temporary solution, while we wait to find a country that will accept them for resettlement. The problem is that, as of right now, the camp is almost entirely full. We are waiting for spaces to open up.”

Since the operation to evacuate people from Libya was launched in late 2017, a total of 1,536 people have been brought to Niger. Currently, there are only 335 available spots in Niamey.

According to a report published by the UNHCR in June 2018, the number of refugees throughout the world waiting to be resettled in another country will reach 1.4 million in 2019. It’s likely the vast majority of them will have to keep on waiting. In 2017, only 75,000 people were resettled.

© Observers – Djamel Belayachi/ FRANCE24