Amnesty International, the UK-based human rights organisation, has documented horror stories of migrants and refugees who faced killings, torture, rape and starvation – mostly at the hands of traffickers in Libya.
The report, released on Friday, was based on interviews with more than 90 refugees and migrants at reception centres in the Italian cities of Puglia and Sicily who had made the journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya over the past few months.
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Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants – mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa – have fled Libya to escape war, persecution or extreme poverty, often in the hope of reaching nearby European countries.
While armed groups – including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) – and criminal gangs in Libya were blamed for many of the severe abuses, the majority of victims were abused by human traffickers., Victims told Amnesty International smugglers as soon as they entered the country or were sold to criminal gangs.
According to the report, migrants and refugees reported facing or witnessing widespread sexual violence, torture, or exploitation by their captors. Some victims were shot dead and others left to die as a result of illnesses or ill-treatment.
Amnesty said some of the women they interviewed reported mass rape.
An Eritrean woman, who was not named, said that she witnessed other women being sexually abused, including one who was gang-raped because the smuggler wrongly accused her of failing to pay the fee.
“They took her away and she was raped by five Libyan men.” Amnesty quoted the Eritrean woman as saying.
Ramya, another Eritrean woman, said she was raped more than once by the traffickers who held her captive in a camp in north-eastern Libya last year.
“The guards would drink and smoke cannabis and then come in and choose which women they wanted and take them outside. The women tried to refuse but when you have a gun pointed at your head, you don’t really have a choice if you want to survive. I was raped twice by three men … I didn’t want to lose my life,” she said.
Antoinette from Cameroon said that the traffickers, who held her captive last April, used to rape even pregnant women.
People held hostage for ransoms
Amnesty said a large number of the interviewees, who were held captive for ransom payments, were kept in squalid conditions, and denied food and water while being beaten frequently.
Semre, 22, from Eritrea, said he saw four people – including a 14-year-old boy and a 22-year-old woman – die from illness and starvation while he was held captive for ransom.
Saleh, another Eritrean man, said he witnessed how one man who could not pay died after being electrocuted in water.
Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa deputy director, called for Libyan authorities and the European Union to take the proper steps to protect migrants and refugees from being abused.
“Their experiences paint a terrifying picture of the conditions many of those who come to Europe are so desperate to escape.
“The Libyan authorities must take urgent steps to restore the rule of law and protect the rights of refugees and migrants.
“The EU should focus less on keeping migrants and refugees out and more on finding safe and legal ways for those trapped in Libya to access a place of safety.” Mughrabi said.