[ 02. Nov 2012 ]

Libya: the hounding of migrants must stop

Libya: the hounding of migrants must stop - Cover

Report of a joint fact finding mission conducted in June 2012 by the FIDH, Justice Without Borders for Migrants (JSFM) and Migreurop in Libya. This report discusses the multiple human rights violations which are subject migrants in Libya.



Almost one year after the official end of the conflict on 23 October 2011, the situation in Libya remains unstable. The transitional government was unable to assert its authority over the various groups and factions that helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship and economic activity has not yet resumed, except in the oil sector. The terrible legacy of 42 years of totalitarian rule by Colonel Gaddafi and his sons, compounded by nine months of civil war and an international military intervention, have left the country in a state of chaos. While the election of a new Libyan National Congress in July 2012 was a positive first step, the challenges it faces to build a state based on the rule of law are immense.

The magnitude of the difficulties stemming from the legacy of the Gaddafi regime, as well as certain worrying developments since its fall, heighten concern that the current "chaos" in the country is not about to end any time soon. As in all situations of political, social and security instability, the most vulnerable people face the most serious threats to their fundamental human rights.

In Libya today, even more so than when Gaddafi was in power, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those of sub-Saharan African origin, suffer severe violations of their basic human rights. Alarmingly, this is far from being a marginal issue in the country, as evidenced by the number of people affected and the severity of the human rights abuses they experience.

Before the war, it was estimated that there were between 1.5 and 2.5 million foreign workers in Libya, contributing to the functioning of the country's economy, among a total population of approximately 6.4 million. Little reliable information existed on how they were treated due to a number of factors: obstacles to access for independent media and non-governmental organisations; the absence of independent Libyan civil society organisations; and the complicity of European states that preferred to turn a blind eye after Gaddafi successfully manoeuvred his return to the international scene by assuming the role of border guard to curb "illegal " migration into Europe. Nonetheless, some information filtered through about the brutal treatment of migrants from sub-Saharan African and concerning the existence of detention camps where migrants were held in appalling conditions.

From the onset of the Libyan conflict on 17 February 2011, migrants were particularly threatened and began a massive exodus. According to data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) published at the end of November 2011,(1) nearly 800.000 migrants fled to neighbouring countries during the conflict (excluding Libyan nationals who sought refuge in Egypt and Tunisia).

In response to alerts about the situation of migrants and refugees stranded in camps at the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, international solidarity organisations sent investigation missions to assess the situation and launched advocacy initiatives at the international level to find solutions for these victims of the Libyan conflict.(2) The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) conducted a fact-finding mission in May 2011 at the border with Egypt(3), during which it collected numerous accounts of abuses against migrants of sub-Saharan origin.


Having closely monitored the information and reports emerging from Libya following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, including alarming accounts of mistreatment of migrants - notably FIDH findings from two missions conducted in Libya in January and May 2012 - FIDH, Migreurop and Justice without Borders for Migrants (JSFM) sent an international investigation mission to Libya from 7 to 15 June 2012.

The main objective of this mission was to gather information on the current camp near Benghazi, run by a brigade (Katiba) calling themselves situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the country, with a particular focus on migrants held in detention camps on administrative grounds linked to their migration status (rather than those imprisoned on the basis of their involvement - real or perceived - in crimes committed by Gaddafi's forces during the conflict).(4) Particular attention was also paid to the plight of "internally displaced" members of the Libyan Tawargha community, also held in camps.

The delegation comprised Genevieve Jacques, member of the FIDH International Board and CIMADE, who conducted missions to the Egyptian and Tunisian borders with Libya in 2011; Sara Prestianni, member of Migreurop and Justice Without Borders for Migrants, and expert on migration issues in the Mediterranean region; and Messaoud Romdhani, Vice President of the Ligue tunisienne des droits de l'Homme and founding member of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

The delegation visited Tripoli, the Nafusa Mountain region and Benghazi. Security constraints prevented travel to the south of the country, where armed clashes were raging between rival militia groups in the Kura region and south of Gharyan at the time of the mission.

The delegation met with representatives of the Libyan authorities, international organisations and civil society working on issues related to migrants and refugees.(5)

The delegation visited the main detention camps in the Tripoli and Benghazi regions (see Appendix 1):

  • Toweisha camp, on the outskirts of Tripoli, holding over 500 persons
  • Bou Rashada camp, in Gharyan in the Nafusa Mountain region 100 km south-west of Tripoli, holding more than 1,000 persons
  • Transit camp in Gharyan, holding 25 persons
  • Ganfuda camp in Benghazi, holding more than 300 persons
  • Transit camp near Benghazi, run by a brigade (Katiba) calling themselves "Free Libya", holding approximately 50 persons

In Benghazi, the delegation also visited an "open" camp run by the Libyan Red Crescent in cooperation with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for particularly vulnerable people removed from the Ganfuda camp (pregnant women, unaccompanied minors, and the sick), holding some 450 people.

The delegation met internally displaced Libyans from Tawargha(6) in two of the seven camps where they were being held at the time of the mission: the Fellah camp in Tripoli (1,300 persons) and in the Benghazi camp run by the Libyan Red Crescent.

The delegation had unrestricted access to all these places of detention and was also able to hold discussions with guards and to collect testimonies from detainees, sometimes under the guards' vigilant surveillance. Most migrants agreed to be photographed after being interviewed and informed about the purpose of the mission "so that people from the outside can see what is happening in these camps".

The mission focused primarily on the plight of black Africans in Libya because of the abuse with which they are targeted as well as the spontaneous nature of their migratory movements which contrasts sharply to the migration patterns of labour migrants from Asia, who tend to migrate under employment contracts concluded in their countries of origin.

Even for those who are able to leave the camps or manage to escape controls, the situation remains dire. The delegation saw concrete evidence of their plight during visits to poor neighbourhoods of Tripoli where it found Eritrean and Somali communities living a semi-clandestine existence in deplorable conditions, deprived of any legal status.

This is the shocking and unacceptable reality that this report seeks to document and analyse, placing it in its complex historical, geopolitical and economic context.

As the report shows, actors operating at local, national and international level have a shared responsibility for the current situation in Libya.

Consequently, recommendations are addressed to:
  • Libyan authorities established through the electoral process
  • The European Union and Member States that have already concluded - or that plan to conclude - bilateral cooperation agreements with Libya


  • Introduction
  • An alarming situation emerging grom a complex history
  • Migrants increasingly threatened, mistreated and vulnerable
  • Arbitrary detention: A key instrument of Libyan migration policy
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Appendices

:: Read the full report here as pdf


1. IOM, Daily Statistical Report, 27 November 2011.

2. See, for example, La Cimade et le Gadem, Défis aux frontières de la Tunisie, May 2011.

3. See FIDH Report, "Exiles from Libya flee to Egypt: Double tragedy for sub-Saharan Africans", July 2011,,9840.

4. See Amnesty International, "Militias threaten hopes for new Libya", May 2012.; "Rule of Law or rule of militia", July 2012.; Human Rights Watch, Libya: As Deadline Passes, Militias Still Hold Thousands, 14 July 2012.

5. See Appendix 2 for full list.

6. Tawargha, a town about 40 km from Misrata, whose population comprises almost exclusively descendants of slaves originating from sub-Saharan Africa, was emptied of its inhabitants following reprisal raids carried out by Misrata revolutionary militias who accused them of supporting and fighting alongside Gaddafi forces.