(NAMIBIA) MintPress – Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya face exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention as well as torture in a post-Gadhafi society, reported Amnesty International in a briefing last week. “Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya are at risk of exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention, as well as beatings, sometimes amounting to torture,” said Sunjeev Bery, […]
(NAMIBIA) MintPress – Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya face exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention as well as torture in a post-Gadhafi society, reported Amnesty International in a briefing last week.
“Undocumented foreign nationals in Libya are at risk of exploitation, arbitrary and indefinite detention, as well as beatings, sometimes amounting to torture,” said Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Following the 2011 conflict, their situation has worsened amid the general climate of lawlessness. Powerful armed militias continue to act outside the law,” he added.
Foreign nationals have always lived with the uncertainty of shifting policies and fear of arbitrary arrest, detention and possible abuse. However, Libya’s location, relative economic prosperity and high demand for migrant labor have kept the flow of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers steady in the region.
According to the Amnesty briefing, “We are foreigners, we have no rights,” the Libyan revolution that led to the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year-old regime in 2011 has resulted in higher risk of detention and abuse for foreign nationals.
“Following the conflict, the situation of foreign nationals was made more difficult by the general climate of lawlessness, the proliferation of arms among the population and the failure of the authorities to tackle racism and xenophobia, fuelled by the widespread belief that ‘African mercenaries’ had been used by the toppled government,” stated the briefing.
Between May and September 2012, Amnesty visited nine detention centers where around 2,700 detainees were found being held for “migrant-related offences.”
Foreign nationals are held in holding centers specially designed for irregular migrants. Others are held in makeshift detention facilities like military camps or hangars. According to the briefing, “militiamen told Amnesty International that they felt that it was their ‘national duty’ to arrest and detain ‘irregular migrants.'”
Pregnant women as well as other women and young children are held in the same appalling conditions as unaccompanied children alongside adult strangers. Detainees reported unsanitary conditions, beatings, insults and exploitation from their time in captivity.
The plight of undocumented foreign nationals is of particular concern considering Libya is yet to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency; foreign nationals are left with nowhere to turn for redress or legal support.
Militiamen fulfill their ‘national duty’
“The situation for foreign nationals in Libya is made more dangerous by powerful armed militias, which fill the security vacuum left by the collapsed state following the toppling of Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s government in 2011,” reported Amnesty. “These militias continue to act outside of the law, while the country’s justice system remains virtually paralyzed.”
While some foreign nationals are apprehended by regular police officers, most are taken by armed militiamen from streets, markets, checkpoints or their homes.
Sunjeev Bery told MintPress, “Some of the militias involved in the overthrow of Gadhafi are today frequently involved in human rights violations against foreign nationals and others.” These militias may be among those supported by the U.S. and NATO during the Libyan Revolution.
According to Bery, “These militias operate with impunity in Libya, creating an environment of continued human rights violations in Libyan society.”
Libyan legislation allows for undocumented foreigners to be detained indefinitely pending deportation with no representation before judicial authorities or opportunity to challenge or complain about treatment in the holding centers.
Foreign nationals who attempt to escape, enquire about their fate or complain about detention conditions are often beaten and tortured by their captors using metal wires, rubber hoses, sticks and water pipes, as well as electric shocks and suspension techniques.
A Chadian man detained without charge by armed militiamen since April told Amnesty: “I was dragged to the ‘interrogation office’ upstairs. A group of men – some in military and others in civilian dress – started taking turns beating me after handcuffing me and forcing me to lie on the ground. They used everything: water-pipes and sticks; gave me electric shocks and used falaqa [beatings on the soles of the feet]. I lost consciousness. They claim that I am a foreigner with no papers.”
Amnesty has confirmed the deaths of at least two men as a result of torture in the hands of armed militias.
Racism aimed at Gadhafi’s ‘mercenaries’
In spite of Gadhafi’s Pan-African ideology and his dream of a “United States of Africa,” Libya has a deep history of racism that has been further fueled by the Libyan uprising. Although Libya is an African nation, the term “African” is mainly used to refer to the country’s black minority.
Foreign nationals have become a sort of scapegoat in Libyan society. “Abuses take place against a backdrop of widespread racism, whereby foreign nationals are blamed for crime, disease and other purported ills in Libyan society,” said Bery. “Widespread rumours of the use of ‘African mercenaries’ by Gadhafi’s government further fueled racism and xenophobia. Authorities have failed to tackle these problems.”
Gadhafi was known to employ black Africans as soldiers and mercenaries, which instilled a mindset among Libyans that “Gadhafi is killing us with his Africans,” as explained in the Guardian. During the revolution, many Libyans adopted the mindset that all black Africans were working for Gadhafi, leaving ordinary black migrants and asylum seekers vulnerable to abuse.
Since the fall of Gadhafi, foreign nationals have reported several instances of racist treatment in Libyan detention centers.
“They dragged me into the yard, and started beating me with metal wires all over my body, particularly on my back. This lasted for about 45 minutes. I didn’t do anything. It’s just because I am black and they don’t want us in this country anymore,” reported a 48-year-old Nigerian man in August.
A Malian detainee told Amnesty, “I am a modern-day slave, forced to work for free, and subjected to racist insults. If I disobey, I am beaten.”
Taking action to protect foreign nationals
“Libyan officials and militiamen make no distinction between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Because of their irregular status, individuals in need of international protection are similarly at risk of arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention and torture or other ill-treatment,” reported Amnesty in the briefing.
“For now, foreign nationals in Libya risking daily violence and exploitation have nowhere to turn to seek justice and redress. Urgent action is needed to end the indefinite detention, violence and other abuses suffered by foreign nationals in Libya.”
Amnesty International urges Libya to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR; ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as its 1967 Protocol; and adopt asylum legislations consistent with international law to protect the rights of those seeking asylum.
The briefing also urges Libya to take steps to counter racism, xenophobia and discrimination against all individuals, whether Libyan or foreign nationals, and to implement a strategy to celebrate rather than stigmatize the diverse ethnic makeup of the country.
When asked if the United States has a responsibility to protect foreign nationals in Libya, Bery told MintPress, “The long-term stability and success of Libya’s new government depends on the protection of human rights for all who live in Libya.
“By supporting and advocating for the human rights of foreign nationals in Libya, U.S. officials can play an important role in helping Libya turn the page on its repressive past,” he added.