A group of teenage migrant girls housed in a government-run detention center in Libya have accused the guards of the establishment, funded by the European Union, of sexually assaulting them, according to an Associated Press report.
A 17-year-old Somali girl, whose identity has been kept anonymous, told AP that she was raped by a guard at the Shara al-Zawiya center in the capital, Tripoli, in April. More girls in the center have come out with similar allegations, with some sharing their test with AP.
The teenager was rescued by Libyan security forces in February more than two years after she was caught by traffickers, who sexually abused her. Traffickers are known to rape, torture and assault migrants and refugees as she tries to reach Europe.
But the 17-year-old said the sexual assaults against her continued, only now by guards at the government-run center where many of the migrants or refugees are being held.
She and four other Somali teenagers subjected to similar abuses are demanding to be released from the Shara al-Zawiya center.
It is one of a network of centers run by the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Immigration, or DCIM, which is supported by the European Union in its campaign to build Libya as a bulwark against mainly African migrants. which cross the Mediterranean.
“While it’s not the first time he’s suffered sexual assault, this is more painful because it was from people who have to protect us,” the 17-year-old told The Associated Press from a smuggled mobile phone.
“You have to offer something in return to go to the bathroom, to call the family or to avoid a fight,” he said. “It’s like we’re being held back by traffickers.”
The Associated Press did not identify the victims of sexual assault, and the young woman also asked not to be called, fearing reprisals.
Smugglers and traffickers
Smugglers and traffickers in Libya – many of them members of militias – have long been known for brutalizing migrants. But rights groups and UN agencies say the abuse also occurs in official structures managed by DCIM.
“Violence and sexual exploitation are widespread in many detention centers (for migrants) across the country,” said Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights.
The UN refugee agency has also documented hundreds of cases of women being raped while in DCIM detention or in prison for traffickers, some of whom were also impregnated by guards and given birth during detention, said Vincent Cochetel, the correspondent. UNHCR special focus on the Central Mediterranean.
The group of teenagers are the only migrants who are being held in Shara al-Zawiya, an establishment where usually migrants have only short periods to be treated. Human rights organizations say they have been trying to secure his release for weeks.
Following his rescue from traffickers in February, the 17-year-old was taken with eight young migrants to Shara al-Zawiya. Four of the others were later released under unclear circumstances.
One April night, around midnight, she said she asked a guard to let her go to the bathroom. When she finished, the guard attacked her and grabbed her hard, she remembers.
“I was petrified and didn’t know what to do,” he told AP. The guard assaulted her as she cried, struggled and begged for him to come down.
“I was lucky that it was done soon.”
The guard then ordered her clothes to be cleaned, she remembered, flashing in tears.
Terrified, she returned to her cell and told one of the other girls what had happened. He soon learned that he was not the only victim. All the girls, aged 16 to 18, had suffered similar abuse or abuse by the guards, she said.
A 16-year-old man in the same cell told the AP that he began being sexually harassed a few days after he arrived at the center. When she begged a guardian to call her family, she gave him a phone call and let her out of her cell to call her mother. Once she was hooked, she stood behind her and grabbed her, she said.
She shook his hands and began to cry. The guard stopped only after realizing that other employees were in the center, he said.
“Every day they do this,” he said. “If you resist, you will be beaten or deprived of everything.”
The Libyan government did not respond to requests for comment from the AP.
At least two of the girls tried to kill each other in late May after alleged beatings and attempted rape, according to local rights group Libyan Crime Watch and UN agencies.
One of them, a 15-year-old boy, was taken to hospital on May 28 and treated by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) only to be remanded in custody. .
Maya Abu Ata, spokeswoman for MSF Libya, confirmed that the group’s staff treated the two at their clinic.
MSF teams “have been pushing for their release from detention and have put pressure on security actors and various interlocutors, however, these attempts have not been successful,” he said.
Continuation of human rights violations
The UNHCR said it was working with Libyan authorities for the release of the five young women still detained in Shara al-Zawiya and their subsequent evacuation from Libya.
The case of teenagers in Shara al-Zawiya also raises questions about the EU’s role in the cycle of violence trapping migrants and asylum seekers in Libya.
The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people seeking to cross the Central Mediterranean towards Europe.
At least 677 people are known to be both dead and missing taking this route on unhealthy boats so far this year.
Nearly 13,000 men, women and children – a record number – have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and are returning to the Libyan coast from the beginning of the year until June 12. Most are then placed in centers managed by DCIM.
In some of the 29 centers run by DCIM across the country, rights groups have documented a lack of basic hygiene, health care, food and water, as well as beatings and torture. DCIM receives support, supplies and training, including in human rights, through the EU $ 5.1 billion Trust Fund for Africa
Libya has been applauded by the West for a ceasefire reached last year and the appointment of an interim government earlier this year, prompting visits by European leaders and the reopening of some embassies. Despite seemingly growing political stability, human rights activists and organizations say their access to migrants in detention centers is becoming increasingly restricted.
“Guns are silent, a ceasefire is in place … but human rights violations continue unabated,” said Suki Nagra, a representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Humans in Libya, following reports of abuse in Shara al-Zawiya.
Even when cases are documented and alleged perpetrators arrested, they are often released because of the lack of witnesses willing to testify for fear of reprisals. For example, Abdel-Rahman Milad, who was under UN sanctions and was arrested last year on charges of human trafficking and fuel smuggling, was released in April without trial.