Escape From Libya

What is life like in a Libyan migrant detention centre?

Last June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHCR) visited detention centres in Libya. The OHCHR report described ‘chronic overcrowding, poor sanitation and health care, and insufficient food…physical or verbal mistreatment, labour exploitation, sexual abuse, extortion and confiscation of identity documents, and minors were being detained with adults.’

Officially, only illegal migrants go to ‘holding centres’ before deportation. This includes people without work visas or residence papers as well as those rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard from foundering boats bound for Europe.

Detainees tell a different story.

‘There have been cases in which migrants, including those with proper documents, have been sent to detention centres following disagreements with dishonest or abusive employers,’ Amnesty International reported in 2013. Other detainees get picked up from the street, based on the colour of their skin.

The Global Detention Project estimates there may be up to 3 million undocumented people living in Libya today. Originally lured by the country’s oil wealth, many migrants now find themselves trapped in a war zone jail with no guarantee of human rights protections.

‘Since I came here, the guards attacked me twice. They whipped me with metal wire and beat and punched me all over my body,’ a 27-year-old Somali detainee told Human Rights Watch.

Now that the country is at war, armed militias run the jails, and often hire out work gangs. The slave labour may buy a detainee’s freedom eventually, but there are no laws governing maximum sentences. With Libya’s government in tatters, deportation has stopped.

And many can’t go home. Syrians. Eritreans. Somalis.

For those who escape or bribe their way out of Libyan detention centres, Europe is the only option. Many don’t make it the first time.

‘There are some people that we catch three or four times. We send them to the holding centre, then save them again,’ a Libyan Coast Guard official told Vice in ‘Migrant Prisons of Libya: Europe or Die.’

Facing a life of abuse, torture and slavery in Libya, and coming from even worse back home, the choice is simple: get to Europe or die trying.

MOAS has proved they can respond, coordinate and assist in Search and Rescue. We are looking to fund the 2015 season and look forward to discussing this topic further. Contact me at