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‘Death is better than staying in Libya’

The idea that asylum seekers can work in Libya is wrong, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiThe idea that asylum seekers can work in Libya is wrong, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Women are raped, men sexually abused. People are kidnapped, trapped into forced labour, made to go for days without food and forced to drink from toilets.

This is life in Libyan detention centres, as recounted by asylum seekers who survived the physical and psychological trauma and managed to reach the safe shores of Malta.

“The question ‘why didn’t you seek asylum in Libya’ is disgusting for me. It makes mockery of what we have gone through.

“Where am I supposed to seek asylum in a place that doesn’t even have institutions?” asks Farah, whose feet were beaten to a pulp at the detention centre so he could not escape.

“When I heard the Maltese government was planning to return some people to Libya I was shocked. I panicked. I thought it was me they wanted to take back. Dying would be better,” said Abuubakar, another survivor.

These accounts are catalogued in Beyond Imagination, a Jesuit Refugee Service publication documenting the experiences of asylum seekers arriving in Malta through Libya.

You’re always in hiding

At the launch at Europe House, Valletta, last night, JRS programme coordinator Goitom Yosief spoke of his personal experience of Libya when he ran away from Eritrea, aged 26.

“From what I have seen being in Libya, it is much worse than being sent to my country,” he said.

There is the idea that, in Libya, asylum seekers can work, he said, but that was far from the truth: “You are in hiding all the time. Even going to the shops can be dangerous.”

Migrants have no rights: they can be detained at any point by police, the army, militia groups or even civilians, he said.

“And even now that the Gaddafi regime has collapsed, the situation is still the same.”

Beyond Imagination highlights the horror stories of a country awash with weapons, targeted assassinations, kidnappings and tribal clashes: a lawless scenario where migrants are vulnerable.

JRS director Katerine Camilleri’s message was clear: “We are reiterating our call to the government to refrain from actions that will result, directly or indirectly, in the return of migrants to Libya until the situation there has drastically improved and the Libyan government puts in place effective measures to safeguard human rights and guarantee access to protection in practice.”

In the publication, JRS referred to the Maltese government’s insistence on more than one occasion that Libya should be seen not as part of the problem of irregular migration but as an essential part of the solution.

“This is nothing less than a travesty of the migrants’ fundamental rights... the truth is that Libya today is nowhere near ready to guarantee anybody’s human rights, let alone those of foreigners,” JRS notes.

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