Migrants caught in clashes in Libya lose hope of reaching Europe

As armed clashes continue in Libya, thousands of migrants detained in the country are increasingly concerned about their safety and are losing hope of reaching Europe.

Media reports reveal that many of the estimated 6,000 refugees and migrants held in detention centres in Libya have been caught up in the ongoing unrest in the country. According to these reports, some migrants held in detention centres have been denied food and water while others have been exploited by smugglers.

Matteo Villa, a researcher with the Italian Institute for International Political Studies said that some of the migrants held in Libyan detention centres had been called by smugglers promising to take them to Italy safely, despite ongoing clashes along the Libyan coast.

At present, militias have been managing boat departures for migrants who are fleeing ongoing violence in the country. Villa said that the growing insecurity was leading to “fewer departures”.

Villa said: “Militias engaged in fighting meant that fewer boats carrying migrants take off. This is bad for (the migrants and refugees) because they urgently need a safe way out.”

Many smugglers are exploiting vulnerable migrants who have no way out of the country.

“It’s a good time for smugglers: it’s their season,” said one Eritrean refugee who was transferred to Niger from Libya by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

An Eritrean man who is being held in the Abu Salim detention centre said, “We don’t know where to go. We are almost without guards, there are only two, and they will also leave us. The war is getting nearer.”

Migrants said their biggest fear was being abducted by smugglers because they had no protection. 

“Above all smugglers are our threats. There is slave trade in this country,” an Eritrean migrant told Al Jazeera. “They take us to their places and demand money. If you do not have the money they beat you. They rape the females. In some places, males also.”

In recent years, European governments have introduced tough immigration policies to deter migrants from attempting to reach Europe from Libya. For example, in 2018 Italy introduced a ‘closed-ports’ policy to prevent rescued migrants from disembarking in Italy. In 2018, about 15, 000 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and brought back to Libya. 

According to European border agency Frontex, less than 500 people reached Europe after departing Libya, Tunisia and Algeria between January and March of this year.

So far this year 409 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

TMP – 16/05/2019

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Photo caption: Thousands of migrants are trapped in Libya due to ongoing unrest in the country