12,000 detainees held in Libya

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Over 12,000 detainees are held officially in 27 prisons and detention facilities across Libya and thousands more are held illegally and often in "inhumane conditions in facilities controlled by armed groups or `secret' facilities," the United Nations chief said in a new report.

In a latest report by the United Nations, Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres says the U.N. political mission in Libya known as UNSMIL continues to document cases of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and other violations of international law in facilities operated by the government and other groups.

He added, the thousands of detainees who do not appear in the official statistics provided by Libyan authorities are unable to challenge the legal basis for their continued detention.

"I remain gravely concerned by the continuing violations of the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya," Guterres said in the report to the U.N. Security Council.

"Female and male migrants and refugees continued to face heightened risks of rape, sexual harassment and trafficking by armed groups, transnational smuggles and traffickers as well as officials from the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, which operates under the Ministry of Interior," he said.

The UNSMIL recorded cases of sexual abuse and trafficking of about 30 Nigerians (women and children).

Oil-rich Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising collapsed and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The North African country has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.

The route through Libya to Italy is characterised by mixed migratory flows, whereby refugees and migrants use the same routes and methods to arrive at their intended destination. Both refugees and migrants find themselves in a highly vulnerable situation, at the mercy of smugglers who facilitate their transport through the desert to Libya, within Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea.

In July 2019 the EU approved five new migration-related programmes in North Africa at the sum of €61.5 million. The projects include protection and assistance for refugees and vulnerable migrants, improvement of the living conditions and resilience of Libyans and fostering of labour migration and mobility.

Guterres said widespread arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees continued, including those rescued or intercepted trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard.

As of Dec. 14, the Coast Guard stopped 30,990 migrants and refugees and returned them to Libya, "almost three times the total number of people returned in 2020 (12,000 people)." More than 1,300 people have died or disappeared attempting the journey, he said.

Guterres expressed serious concern at those people arbitrarily detained and those who remain homeless following widespread security operations in October by Libyan authorities in which he said, "Excessive and disproportionate force was used." He said the operations targeted more than 5,150 migrants and refugees, including at least 1,000 women and children, and left families separated and children missing.

An analysis of the existing cooperation between the EU and Libya and of the EU’s vision of dealing with Libya’s increasing use as a stepping stone to Europe raise the fear that this cooperation is guided primarily by a desire to prevent the flow of people into the EU, regardless of their protection needs. EU-Libya cooperation on combating irregular migration is still in its early stages but evidence so far suggests that a security approach of border control and surveillance is being adopted, while only - 6 - superficial attention is being paid to ensuring human rights protection to refugees and migrants alike

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