Many refugees have been forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard under policies endorsed by the European Union.
In February 2017, Italy made a deal, backed by the EU, to spend tens of millions of euros funding the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts boats heading for Italy and returns those onboard to Libya.
From January 2017 to September 2018, the Libyan coastguard intercepted and forcibly returned more than 29,000 people. Many ended up in detention centres or disappeared altogether.
Refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa are being subjected to horrific and routine sexual violence in Libyan detention centres, a survey has found.
People arriving at the centres are “often immediately raped by guards who conduct violent anal cavity searches, which serves the dual purpose of retrieving money, as well as humiliation and subjugation”, the report by the Women’s Refugee Commission says.Among the forms of sexual violence described to researchers was anal and oral rape, forced rape of others including corpses, castration and forced incest. Much of the sexual violence described by research participants contained elements of profound psychological torture and cruelty.
Sarah Chynoweth, the lead researcher on the report, said: “Profoundly cruel and brutal sexual violence and torture are perpetrated in official detention centers and clandestine prisons, during random stops and checkpoints, and in the context of forced labor and enslavement. The fact that refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean are intercepted and forced back into this violence is untenable.”
A UN officer estimated that 90% of male refugees and migrants being hosted in the Italian reception system had experienced sexual violence during their journey. A local government official said that, among refugee and migrant boys, “although there are no real numbers, we know that a huge number of the minors have experienced sexual violence on the journey to Italy”.
The extent of sexual violence perpetrated against refugees appears in part to be contingent on their financial resources, their connections, and the year that they travelled – those traveling in recent years are seemingly more likely to have experienced sexual violence. In many cases, sexual violence and torture are filmed on Skype and used to try to extract ransom money from the victims’ relatives.
Refugees, migrants and informants told researchers that sexual violence was commonplace throughout the journey to Italy. “All along the journey they experienced sexual violence,” a health provider reported.