Libya: Dozens of refugees and migrants wounded after escaping horrific captivity

LIBYA 2018 © Christophe Biteau/MSF

PARIS/NEW YORK—Dozens of refugees and migrants held captive by human traffickers in Libya were shot and wounded while escaping during the night of May 23, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

More than 100 people escaped from a clandestine prison west of Bani Walid, in northwestern Libya, and were shot at while fleeing. MSF teams at Bani Walid General Hospital treated 25 injured people, some with severe gunshot wounds and multiple fractures. Survivors told MSF staff that at least 15 people were killed and that up to 40 people, mostly women, were left behind. The survivors are mostly teenagers from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia seeking asylum in Europe. They reported being held by human traffickers who had sold them multiple times around Bani Walid and the nearby town of Nesma.

Some survivors told MSF staff that they had been held captive for up to three years. Many had visible scars, electric burn marks, and old, infected wounds, illustrating the ordeal they had suffered. The majority of the traumatized survivors are unaccompanied minors.

In Bani Walid General Hospital, an MSF team supported in the treatment of 25 wounded people who had escaped. Among them, 18 suffered minor injuries and received first aid and dressings; seven were hospitalized for further care for severe gunshot wounds and multiple fractures. MSF also donated supplies to the hospital to replenish its medical stocks.

Under the supervision of local Bani Walid security forces, the survivors were transferred to a security facility inside Bani Walid. On May 24, they were transferred to detention centers in Tripoli. MSF medical teams in Tripoli are carrying out medical consultations, and 14 severely wounded patients have been referred for hospital care.

"All necessary measures must be taken to ensure patients can access the required treatment and to protect these extremely vulnerable people from further harm after surviving such atrocities," said Christophe Biteau, MSF head of mission. "Arbitrary detention cannot be a solution. They are in urgent need of protection and assistance."

Many people in Bani Walid, including hospital and municipal workers, members of civil society organizations, elders, and members of security forces quickly reacted to protect the escapees as they were chased by their captors and armed men attempting to recapture them.

This is only the latest example of the ongoing horrors suffered by many migrants and refugees while transiting through Libya. MSF teams have no access to the clandestine prisons in the Bani Walid area. It is unclear how many people are still held captive.

Kidnapping for ransom remains a thriving business, boosted by European Union-sponsored policies aimed at criminalizing migrants and refugees and preventing them from reaching European shores at all costs, MSF said

MSF has been working for about one year in the Bani Walid region, where migrants reportedly face widespread kidnapping, torture, and extortion. MSF carries out about 100 medical consultations per month for migrants and refugees, in partnership with a local organization (Assalam). MSF refers the most severe cases for further medical treatment. MSF has also worked in detention centers nominally under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and its agency combating illegal immigration (DCIM) in the region of Tripoli, Khoms, and Misrata.

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