Women and children from African countries attempting to make the journey to Europe are being detained in unofficial militia-run detention centers in Libya – where they are subjected to rape, beaten, forced into labor, and starved, in addition to various other atrocities, according to the United Nations.
“They arrested us and brought us into the Zawia prison. No food. No water. They beat us every day. No doctor, no medicine,” a 9-year-old Nigerian girl identified as Kamis told the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, from an unofficial jail in Libya.
“The results of this rapid assessment demand action. We can’t have a situation where children and women disappear into a hellhole. They are sexually assaulted, abused, exploited and killed,” declared Justin Forsyth, UNICEF deputy executive director.
While thousands of African citizen seeking refuge from poverty, violence, and despair make it into Europe, thousands more only make it as far as Libya, where militiamen carry out shocking forms of abuse against them.
Some militia groups have established detention centers described as “hellholes” to imprison migrants caught while passing through.
In a new report, UNICEF notes:
The militias developed their own detention centers because they could profit from migrants who wished to pass through certain areas. Each militia typically operates its own centre, detaining migrants on the perceived grounds that they bring disease, engage in prostitution and are criminals or mercenaries.
When asked whether they paid anyone to help them migrate, nearly all the children surveyed indicated they had paid smugglers. Smugglers charged the women and children between US$200 and $1,200 each for the journey, though it was unclear whether the children had made the payment themselves.
According to the U.N., there are at least 34 detention centers across Libya. The Libyan government runs 24 that hold between 4,000 and 7,000 detainees.
Meanwhile, militias are holding migrants in an unknown number of unofficial detention centers.
The survey confirmed that sanitation conditions were substandard and the centers were, worryingly overcrowded, increasing the likelihood of the spread of infectious diseases.
The militia-run detention centers were no more than forced labour camps, farms, warehouses and makeshift prisons run by armed groups. For the thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated, they were living hellholes where people were held for months at a time without any form of due process, in squalid, cramped conditions. Serious violations, including allegations of violence and brutality, were commonplace.
The militiamen often cram as many as 20 migrant prisoners into cells not larger than two square meters.