LIBYAPROSPECT – London
Women and children, who have been taking the dangerous trips across the Mediterranean to Europe to flee poverty and conflicts in African countries are being beaten, raped, and starved in Libya, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
The Guardian Newspaper reported that children are being sexually abused and are coerced into prostitution and work, and in some dire condition are held to ransom for months, in overcrowded detention centers in Libya.
Last year more than 181,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children arrived on the shores of Italy. Mafias controlling unofficial detention centers have become a lucrative business that profits from trafficking and are “no more than forced labor camps and makeshift prisons for the thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated, the centers were living hellholes where people were held for months.” Said UNICEF.
It was reported that three-quarters of migrant children who were interviewed in Libya by the International Organisation for Cooperation and Emergency Aid (IOCEA) have claimed to have experienced violence, harassment, or aggression at the hands of adults during their journeys to Italy. A survey that on 122 women and children migrants also found that a significant number of teenage girls were forced to take contraceptive jabs, to allow men to rape them without the risk of pregnancy.
The Guardian also claimed that sexual violence and abuse were widespread and systematic across checkpoints in Libya, with a third of women and children, who were interviewed, said that their attackers wore uniforms associated with the military. Nearly half of the women and children had experienced sexual abuse during their migration, often multiple times in multiple different locations.
Afshan Khan, the UNICEF regional director and special coordinator for the refugee and response crisis in Europe said that “the central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.” She added that “the route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children, and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life. We need safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children that keep them safe and keep predators at bay.”
The UNICEF said that most women and children had already paid smugglers at the beginning of their journeys under a “pay as you go” scheme, which had left many of them in debt and made them vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and abduction. It also found that the children, whose parents have not paid enough money to the smugglers, were held for thousands of dollars, mostly in Sudan or Libya.
Many of the migrants were expecting to spend extended time periods in Libya, working to pay for the rest of the journey but that was not the reality. A Nigerian boy aged 15 told the IOCEA, while he was held in a Libyan detention center, that they were treated like chickens. He said that “they beat us, they do not give us good water and good food. They harass us. So many people are dying here, dying from the disease, freezing to death.”
A study, undertaken by the Institute of Migration, discovered that 70% of the migrants traveling overland through North Africa to Europe had become victims of human trafficking and exploitation on the way.
Approximately 34 detention centers have been identified across Libya; it is estimated that they hold between 4,000 and 7,000 detainees. Of the 34 centers, only 24 are run by the Libyan government department for combatting illegal migration. The UNICEF claims to only have access to less than half of the government-run centers; even those are in dire conditions, some had about 20 people crammed into cells not bigger than two square meters for extended periods of time.
The Guardian quoted the deputy executive director of the UNICEF, Justin Forsyth, saying that “the results of this rapid assessment demand action. We can’t have a situation where children and women disappear into a hellhole. They are sexually assaulted, abused, exploited, and killed.”
The UNICEF’s UK’s deputy executive director, Lily Caprani, had urged the UK MPs to support the unaccompanied child refugees in a vote, on Tuesday in the UK parliament. She said that “because the safe and legal routes available are so limited, traffickers and smugglers control the route, preying on vulnerable children seeking a better life in Europe and UK. Even when children reach Europe, the traffickers and smugglers continue to monitor and coerce these children. The stories revealed in this work are harrowing – no child should face these horrors.” She added that “conflict-affected states, but it must also protect these vulnerable children in Europe by providing safe and legal pathways to the UK for those who have a legal claim.”