UN rights report details ‘unconscionable’ violations of migrants returning from Libya


“This desperate situation requires all concerned to ensure that no migrant is compelled to accept assisted return to an unsafe or unsustainable situation in their country of origin”, said acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif.

Amidst a lack of protection within and outside Libya, migrants are subjected to sub-standard treatment in a bid to escape abusive detention conditions, threats of torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, extortion, and other abuses.

“Collectively, these conditions have created a coercive environment that is often inconsistent with free choice”, the report states.

Reality check

In principle, ‘assisted returns’ are voluntary.

However, the report finds that in reality, many migrants in Libya are unable to truly return in accordance with international human rights law and standards, including the principle of free, prior and informed consent.

Many find that they have no choice but to return to the same circumstances that made them leave their countries in the first place, the report states.

Lingering repercussions

“Any migrant who is returned to a country that is experiencing adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin, including human rights violations and abuses, the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation, armed conflict, persecution, or a combination of these reasons, may end up in an even more vulnerable situation than before”, the report warns.

Returnees also face additional personal, financial and psychosocial burdens, including as a result of the severe trauma they experienced in Libya.

In the absence of sustainable solutions to these problems, migrants may feel compelled to leave again, in even more precarious circumstances, adds the report.

‘Beating people like animals’

It also contains testimony from some of the 65 immigrants interviewed by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) who had recently been returned to the Gambia.

“They brought me to a prison. But even at that point I didn’t think about going back to Gambia. Then they entered the prison with a stick and were beating people like animals. Sometimes they would take your money and good clothes. They broke my teeth. So, I accepted return”, one of the migrants said.

Another explained, “I had no chance to ask to seek protection in Libya or elsewhere. I was only offered to go back home”.

‘Untenable’ situation

Since 2015, more than 60,000 migrants in Libya have been repatriated through ‘assisted return’ programmes to different countries across Africa and Asia, including at least 3,300 Gambians who have returned since 2017.

“Libya and involved States should take immediate steps to urgently address this untenable, unconscionable situation”, underscored Ms. Al-Nashif, adding that “Libyan authorities should immediately end all violations and abuses of migrants’ rights”.

The senior UN official upheld that other States also have a responsibility “to step up and provide more protection to migrants trapped in Libya by increasing safe and regular pathways of admission to their territories”.



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