Libyan coastguard ‘taking bribes to free migrants’

Photo credit: Humanitarian Practice Network 2016. Migrants detained in Libyan detention centre.

TMP – 01/11/2017

New reports from Human Rights Watch are emerging that the Libyan coastguard is colluding with people smugglers and further facilitating illegal human trafficking by detaining and then releasing in exchange for bribes migrants who attempt to cross into Europe.

According to the many testimonies collected by the rights’ group, guards are systemically intercepting smuggler boats and detaining migrants, before taking bribes to later release them.

The Libyan coastguard has been playing a key role in the European Union’s recent efforts to stem the flow of migrants entering Europe, with the EU providing training to the coastguard.

One migrant, Stéphane – a 30-year-old man from Cameroon – told The Independent newspaper he was beaten and robbed by uniformed coastguards while trying to cross into Italy in June.

“While they were beating us they demanded money, dollars, telephones – they took everything,” Stéphane told the media outlet. “They claimed that if we gave them money, they would have taken us to Italy themselves.”

Stéphane reported that he and other passengers were transferred to a prison near Sabratha, a notorious smuggling hub in Libya, where he was kept for three weeks before officials offered to free the prisoners for 155 euros per person. This bribe was eventually paid by the same Cameroonian smuggler who organised Stéphane’s initial crossing.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty UK’s director for refugee and migrant rights, said the group had evidence of migrants being “passed from the coastguard to detention centres where they may be sold on to smugglers and others”.

Mr Valdez-Symonds told the Independent that the “chaotic” aftermath of Libya’s civil war was enabling systematic abuse of power.

“You’ve got people in quasi-official positions like that of a coastguard who are probably not being paid regularly or properly supervised,” he warned. “Whether of their own initiative or as part of the operation they’re being directed in, these sorts of abuses do seem to be pretty common.”

According to the International Organization for Migration, there are between 700,000 and one million migrants in Libya, with between 5,000 and 6,000 of those in detention.