Despite being taken to prison or having their homes attacked by armed gangs, the migrants did not desire to return to their respective countries. However, they were forced to do so due to the injuries sustained from beatings and illnesses contracted while in Libyan detention centers. Furthermore, they were treated negligently, similar to animals, ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE
Instead of being the subject of a viral video that circulated on the internet in July of this year, featuring an unidentified deceased woman at a migrant Libyan detention center, Jamilu Yusef excitedly began a trip from Mitiga airport in Tripoli to Lagos, Nigeria on November 2nd, 2021.
It is believed that the woman, who is suspected to be of Somali descent, succumbed to tuberculosis, a prevalent disease in overcrowded detention centers, similar to Yusef who also endured health problems in Libya but was ignored by the authorities.
Experts have stated that the conditions for migrants in Libya have been challenging ever since the overthrow of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Following the devastating demise of his parents in 2019, Yusef, a 34-year-old Nigerian migrant, set off on his expedition to Libya. Carrying not only hope but also the aspirations of his family, he ventured forward with the determination to achieve success but obstacles set in.
Yusef was among 162 migrants who participated in the Voluntary Humanitarian Return program of the International Organization for Migration. This program included 98 women, 28 men, and 36 children from Libya. Looking back on his time in Sabha, Yusef remembered facing many challenges. He frequently had his hard-earned money taken away by armed groups.
It was not only Yusef who experienced that, for instance, Desmond Isaac, a 32-year-old Nigerian who had sold all of his belongings to make it to Europe in 2018, came remarkably close to Italy within only 10 hours of departing from Libyan shores. Nevertheless, his expedition was disrupted as a Libyan Coast Guard ship appeared and saved him from his inflatable boat, taking him back to the continent he thought he had fled.
Refugees and migrants in Libya experience sexual assault, torture, and kidnappings for ransom at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. Furthermore, they also encounter systematic deceit from their employers, religious persecution, and various forms of abuse perpetrated by armed groups and criminal organizations.
According toYusef, "While I was residing in Sabha, I encountered numerous difficulties. My hard-earned money was frequently confiscated by armed groups.”
One particularly memorable incident occurred when his home was raided by masked individuals who took everything he owned.
“The memory of masked individuals storming into my residence will forever remain ingrained in my mind,” he said.
They confiscated the money he had saved to support his siblings back home, as well as his cellphone.
“They seized all of my belongings, including the money I had saved to send to my siblings, as well as my phone,” he added.
When Yusef attempted to retrieve his belongings, he was physically attacked and threatened with death. Feeling completely isolated, he made the decision to move to Tripoli.
“When I attempted to retrieve my possessions, they subjected me to physical assault and death threats. I experienced an overwhelming sense of isolation. It was at that moment that I made the decision to relocate to Tripoli," he concluded.
Yusef made the decision to travel to Libya after witnessing the murder of his father and the passing of his mother in Nigeria due to illness. As the primary provider for his family, he found it impossible to cope with the unstable job market and political situation in Nigeria, leading him to seek better opportunities in Libya, but was challenged by multiple challenges that included ill-health.
In the past, Libya used to attract foreign workers because of its strong economy. However, since the civil war, migrants like Yusef have been using the country as a transit point to reach Europe. Sadly, many migrants have become stranded due to the tightening of European borders after the migration crisis in 2015-16.
Migrants held in overcrowded Libyan centers face not only health problems like Yusef was shallenged with but also endure various types of abuse such as sexual abuse, forced labor, torture, and a lack of basic necessities like food, sunlight, and water. Despite assurances from Libyan authorities that they would close abusive detention centers, a report from Amnesty International reveals that newly established or reopened facilities continue to violate human rights.
Dr. Al-Shremi, a psychiatrist based in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, highlights the difficulties faced by individuals in need of urgent care in the country. Ziyad Alhamadi, who is also located in Tripoli, echoes these challenges by explaining that public psychiatric hospitals refuse entry to refugees and asylum-seekers, while private clinics charge excessively high fees for admission.
Additionally, there is a shortage of available medication. Another concerning issue is the social stigma surrounding mental health, as some patients mistakenly believe that seeking treatment may harm their chances of being resettled or evacuated, leading them to request the closure of their medical records. Furthermore, some patients prematurely end their treatment, even if they have experienced partial improvement.
According to a survey conducted by the IOM, 72% of migrants are faced with limited or no access to healthcare services. Additionally, migrants have expressed concerns about experiencing increased discrimination and stigmatization from healthcare staff.
"Even when they took me to prison, I never considered going back. But then they entered the prison with sticks and treated people like animals. Sometimes they would take our money and clothes. They even messed with my teeth. So I ultimately accepted deportation," explained Lamin*, a migrant who was detained in Libya and sent back to his home country, The Gambia.
While there have been numerous reports of human rights violations in Libyan detention centers that support the idea of the operation as 'humanitarian' and 'voluntary', the lack of alternatives raises doubts about the true voluntariness of the returns.
Onwumere writes from Rivers state. He can be reached via: [email protected]
Credits: ohchr , nytimes , thenewhumanitarian , springer , migrationpolicy , mena.iom.int , unhcr , reliefweb.int . Photos credits: Rawand Al Hares/IOM Libya 2021