Migrants in Libya say face beatings, rape awaiting Mediterranean crossing

Flowers left by members of the public are seen at the Mater Dei Hospital mortuary where the bodies of 24 migrants lie in Tal-Qroqq, outside Valletta, April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

By Joseph D'Urso LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two Eritrean migrants waiting in Libya to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Italy have spoken of the terrible conditions they face, going hungry and witnessing others being beaten and raped by smugglers. "I have seen women be raped in front of their children, and they leave their children on top of the car and take the mothers if they want to rape them," a man named 'Yosef', to protect his identity, said in an interview with Save The Children. "There is lack of food, there is only macaroni," said Yosef, who is "stuck" in Libya because he has run out of money, after being funded by his aunt to travel there from Sudan. "The macaroni has lots of metal and stones in it. That is what is fed to the children as well." Libya, gripped by violence and a breakdown of state authority four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, has become a major hub for human traffickers smuggling African migrants by boat to Italy. The two Eritreans, interviewed by Save The Children on Sunday, are waiting in a house in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with 84 other migrants controlled by smugglers. The transcript was made available to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The female interviewee, whose four-year-old daughter is with her, has been named 'Salma'. "If we get food we eat, otherwise she sleeps hungry," Salma said of her child. "We can hear bombs going off around us." Her husband had been conscripted by the army in Eritrea, she said. "I couldn't make ends meet with what I got, so I had no other option but to leave". RAPES, BEATINGS The house is run by smugglers who charge the migrants rent. "Those unable to pay are forced to leave," Save the Children said in a statement, adding that they are not allowed to leave the house and have not seen daylight for some time. Nearby are other traffickers' houses, one holding 180 migrants waiting to cross to Italy, the other housing 330, the charity said. Of the 86 migrants in Yosef and Salma's house, 37 are woman and children, eight of them babies and toddlers. "I don't think the women here are in danger from Eritreans, but they are from local people," said Yosef, adding "it is a place where not only the women but also the men are raped." Salma said she had not been attacked. "I’ve been lucky, because I’ve had a child they didn’t come for me. But there are other women that have seen bad situations," she told the charity. Some men had their hands broken because they tried to protect their wives, she said. More than 36,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year, the United Nations says, most of them using Libya as their starting point, and nearly 1,800 are feared to have died in the attempt. "IF GOD WILLS IT I WILL GO" As many as 900 people may have died off the Libyan coast on Sunday when their packed boat capsized as they were trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. The deaths caused shock in Europe, where a decision to scale back naval operations last year seems to have increased the risks for migrants without reducing their numbers. EU officials, worried about encouraging people to make the crossing just as economic troubles in some European countries fan hostility to immigration, have struggled to come up with a response but proposed on Monday doubling their rescue operation. "Of course I get scared, but I have no other option, I have to take my chance. If God wills it I will go with my daughter and make it. If not, I accept what happens to me with my daughter," said Salma. (Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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