Author: Jane Wharton
Migrants trying to reach Europe face routine rape and sexual torture throughout their journey, according to graphic new research.
Men are abused nearly as much as women and experts have described finding mass graves of men who have had their genitals hacked off.
Libya is the most dangerous part of the journey and migrants say that abuse is rife in both government camps and those run illegally.
Smugglers are also said to torture migrants and film it to extract ransom payments from their families.
The study, based on dozens of interviews with aid workers and migrants, comes as Europe has blocked sea rescues and outsourced its migration policy to Libya’s coast guard instead.
Previous studies have found that nearly all the women who cross from North Africa have been raped or sexually abused along the journey.
This is the first study – conducted by the Women’s Refugee Commission – that found the danger was nearly as prevalent among men.
One mental health worker recalled finding graves filled with men with their genitals sliced off, which was corroborated by a number of survivors who spoke of mutilations.
Migrants told other similar stories about rape, forced incest and mass sexual abuse intended to humiliate detainees who had to strip naked and become either rapists themselves or victims.
According to a 20-year-old man from Guinea, ‘when the men came back crying, they would talk about what the guards did to them and how violent it was.’
The area around Bani Walid, Libya, is particularly notorious for its clandestine prisons, where migrants have described being held in darkened warehouses for months and even years on end.
During that time, smugglers will try to extract money from them to continue their journey.
Last May, more than 100 migrants and refugees broke free from one of the lockups before their captors opened fire.
At least 15 people died and 40 were left behind, according to the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
Those who survived were ultimately shipped off to an official Libyan detention centre run by the government.
Europe has recently changed its policy and has now effectively banned rescues at sea in an effort to slow migration.
The EU has spent more than £290,000,000 since 2014 trying to stem the flow of people and have pumped money into strengthening the Libyan coastguard and government-run centres.
Migrants turned back in the Mediterranean are unlikely to fare much better in official detention than they did in the warehouses, according to the study’s lead researcher, Sarah Chynoweth.
At one of the official prisons, a 19-year-old Nigerian woman told a health worker that women faced near constant threat of rape, and men only marginally less.
Migrants bribe their way to freedom or escape if they can.
‘They said that if we tell in Europe what is happening in Libya, our brothers and sisters in the prison will pay,’ she said in the report.
The EU has acknowledged ‘appalling conditions’ in Libya’s detention centres are an issue but haven’t suggested any solutions.
The report added that migrants know their attackers won’t face justice which creates a ‘climate of impunity in Libya that signals that reporting is not only dangerous but futile.’