Not long ago, Libya opened its doors to foreigners. Eager for cheap labor, the Libyan government and its leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi welcomed Africans in the spirit of pan-African solidarity.
Those days are gone. Around 2000, the government began fearing that too many foreigners had come, saturating the market for jobs. In a country with just over five million people, well over one million non-Libyans had arrived. The government blamed them for rising crime, new disease and social tension.
Around the same time, European governments began pressuring Libya to control illegal migration. In recent years thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have left Libya or transited through it to Europe, riding in packed smugglers’ boats to Italy. The European Union has urged Libya to stem the flow.
Over the past three years, the Libyan government has taken a number of steps towards that aim. It has toughened its border controls, both in the desert and along the coast. It has bolstered its immigration department, and now cooperates more closely with the European Union, individual European governments and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on migration control.
More problematically, the government has implemented a plan to arrest and forcibly return tens of thousands of foreigners who illegally enter Libya or are there without proper documentation. Many of these people are migrant workers who came for economic reasons, but the government has made no attempt to differentiate between these people and the asylum seekers, refugees and others in need of international protection who also came. The plan, chaotic and poorly organized at first, has led to arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, lengthy and arbitrary detention in poor conditions, and forced deportations without the opportunity for deportees to seek asylum, all of which violate Libyan and international law.
A persistent problem is physical abuse at the time of arrest, usually on Libya’s borders or in urban sweeps. In Libya and Italy, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who had experienced or witnessed beatings and other maltreatment during their time in Libya by border guards and police.
Read full report on HRW website: Stemming the Flow: Abuses Against Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees
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