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Gambian migrants in Libya narrate shocking stories to Amnesty

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“It was not the police. Anyone is the police in Libya. They all have arms. They catch you and tell you that you have to pay money or else you will never get out,” Ibrahim, a Gambian man said of his abduction by a criminal group in Sabha in 2014. 

Ibrahim also told the international rights watch that he was deprived of food and tortured while he was under the custody of the criminal gang that abducted him.

“I arrived in Sabha from Niger on a Saturday. Before I knew it, the smugglers handed me over to someone else. They gave us food only once a day…Sometimes, we would stay for a full day without any food. Every day they [the guards] would come to beat you and say that you have to call your family and ask them to pay the ransom. I was detained for four months,” he said. 

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Barely a week ago, the Italian interior ministry revealed that The Gambia is the leading country of origin between January and April registering over 1400 arrivals; a massive progress from its fifth position as of last year. 

Amnesty reported, in another case, the story of a Somali man who was smuggled into Libya via Sudan around November 2014 claiming he was abducted alongside a good number of Gambians before he bought his freedom.  

“Around 55 people from different nationalities were held in the house including Somalis, Gambians, Nigerians and Eritreans. They gave us only a plate of pasta and a small bottle of water per day. We had to sleep on the floor without any blanket…the room didn’t have any windows…,” he told Amnesty. 

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Amnesty expressed concern that the security situation in Libya is rapidly deteriorating exposing migrant workers to huge security risk. The rights group said the situation is further worsened by the inability of human rights groups to visit detention centres which are often known for keeping detainees in degrading human conditions.

Kawsu, a Gambian migrant aged 24 who worked as a bricklayer in Tripoli, described to Amnesty International his ill-treatment in the Sabratah immigration detention centre after his boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard off the coast of Zuwara in February 2015:

“We were about 100 people on the boat, both men and women. We were still in Libyan territorial waters when the Libyan coastguard intercepted our boat. They took us to a prison in Sabratah. There were so many people in the rooms that we could not lay down to sleep. We had to stand or crouch all the time. The guards would only give us bread and water. They would beat us with sticks each time they would come to the room.” Kawsu managed to escape from the detention centre after several days. He attempted to cross the Mediterranean again at the beginning of March 2015.”

Two Nigerian women released from a detention centre in Sabratah in December 2014 reported strip searches by male guards, rape and sexual assault and harassment involving Gambians. 

“I stayed in prison for two months. It was a women’s prison but all the guards were male. 

There were women from Tunisia, The Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon, Somalia and Nigeria. They used to beat us with pipes on the back of our thighs; they were even beating the pregnant women. At night, they would come to our rooms and tried to sleep with us. Some of the women were raped. One woman even got pregnant after she was raped. No one touched me because I was pregnant. This is why I decided to go to Europe. I suffered too much in prison. One of the pregnant women died there –they took away her body, but we don’t know what exactly happened to her. They hit her on the stomach –she was seven to eight months pregnant and died. During the day, they would force us to come out of our rooms to clean or cook. They used to touch our breasts when we were working. They would beat us if we dared to shout,” one of the women said.


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