Malta-Libya: 'this is my country; I do what I like'
21 May 2015

A lawless country: demonstrators protest against the use of weapons by rebel militias in Tripoli late 2011. (UN Photo / Iason Foounten)
The full report "Beyond imagination: asylum seekers testify to life in Libya" is available here.
The man in charge shot others as they ran.

Valletta, 21 May 2015 – The asylum seekers interviewed were not always certain who was imprisoning them, even if the guards wore military fatigues, as members of militia groups sometimes wear them too. However the common denominator of the treatment they received in all places of detention was the impunity with which their captors behaved. In a word, the guards could do exactly as they pleased – taunt, torture, rape, even kill – without being apparently accountable to anybody.

Not all the guards were bad. The asylum seekers were clear about this and told of one guard who made a telephone call to an embassy on their behalf, and another who bought a bar of soap for some of them. However, the fact remains that the asylum seekers were completely at the mercy of the inclinations of their captors, often with appalling consequences.

Testimonies

Abuubakar: "There was a good Samaritan among the militia, he said ‘they are Muslim, just leave them'."

Farah: "The militia men are out of this world, they can do anything they want to you, verbal, sexual, physical abuse, anything."

Tesfay: "The guards had different behaviours, some beat you and treated you badly and others were ok. For sure, they could do whatever they wanted with you, they were not controlled by anyone. They used to treat us badly just for fun; it depended on their mood, not because we did something bad.

"For example, if they took us to the toilet and they thought we took too long, they got angry and lashed out, as simple as that. Or if they called us for breakfast and some dawdled, they would get it."

Mehari: "There was too much beating in Tweisha. A lot of people were injured. They had no reason to beat us apart from enjoying the fact that they were violating our dignity; they seemed to enjoy it."

Yohannes: "In Ajdabiya, the guards used to beat people for nothing, and when some asked why they were doing this, they got shot in their legs. They used to beat us with anything they had in their hands."

17-year-old Sahra: "When we crossed the border, they caught us and told us we had to pay to be released. We were about 60 in this prison. Some of us didn't have money and they made us run up and down for hours as a punishment. But we were given hardly any food or water, so how could we run? I saw some people drop dead.

"The man in charge shot others as they ran. When he shot them, he threatened the rest of us: 'If you don't do everything I say, you will die like that, I will shoot you all.' This man – he wore a military uniform – used to choose a woman every night. One time, it was going to be me, but the others begged him not to take me because I was sick... not because I am young – that didn't matter. The guards would come and beat us for no reason other than ‘you are not at home here. This is my country and I can do what I like.'

"They hit me on the head and I had headaches all the time. We left this prison when another man bought us and took us to Sabha, where we were put in an old house and again told we had to pay, to call our family within two hours to send us the money or face punishment. I didn't have money so I escaped."

Bereket: "I was shot in prison in Sabratha on 24 June 2013. Some people – I was not among them – tried to escape at dinnertime, practically the only time we were allowed out of our cells. They had been protesting about the harsh conditions in the prison. The guards shot to prevent them escaping and I was hit. They did not shoot in the air but directly at us. The bullet went into one side of my leg, just above my ankle, and out of the other. After a few hours, the guards took me to hospital."

The full report is available here.