UN immigration official says migrants captured by the Libyan Coast Guard are disappearing in the thousands within 'unofficial' facilities run by traffickers and militias

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In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 file photo, rescued migrants are seated next to a coast guard boat in the city of Khoms, Libya, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli.
In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 file photo, rescued migrants are seated next to a coast guard boat in the city of Khoms, Libya, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli. When millions of euros started flowing from the European Union into Libya to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the money came with EU promises to improve detention centers notorious for abuse and to stop human trafficking. That hasn’t happenedAP Photo/Hazem Ahmed, File
  • The Libyan Coast Guard captured 15,000 migrants in the first seven months of 2021.

  • Only 6,000 of the 15,000 captured migrants were transferred to official detention centers.

  • International aid groups say the detention centers are overcrowded and lack basic amenities.

In the first seven months of 2021, more than 15,000 migrants were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard and other authorities as they tried to cross international waters and reach Europe. However, only about 6,000 of the migrants who were captured were being held in designated migrant detention facilities, a New Yorker investigation found.

Federico Soda, the International Organization for Migration's chief of mission in Libya, told the New Yorker that "the numbers simply don't add up." He believes migrants are disappearing within "unofficial" detention facilities run by militias and traffickers, which the United Nations has accused the Libyan Coast Guard of collaborating with, the New Yorker reported.

In addition to the country's fifteen recognized detention centers, the number of unofficial detention sites has "mushroomed" in recent years, according to IOM.

International aid organizations have raised concerns about reports they have received of conditions in both official and unofficial migrant detention centers, with countless survivors and escapees recounting their sexual abuse, extortion, and even torture at the hands of guards, the New Yorker reported.

Many migrants used Libya as a transit point before setting off for Europe, which has hardened its stance toward newcomers and financially backed the Libyan Coast Guard, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The perilous journey is made by thousands of migrants for a variety of reasons, including forced displacement, economic opportunities, and fleeing war and persecution, according to Human Rights Watch.

Osman, a Sudanese immigrant who fled conflict in Darfur and was later held in Libya's largest detention center, told Amnesty International how the guards subjected detainees to torture: "When they beat you, it's to the level of death: you wish for death. They would come drunk in the nights and harass people until the morning."

Mass arrests conducted by Libyan authorities last month have exacerbated already dire conditions within the centers. Aid organizations like the International Rescue Committee, who have sent staff and volunteers to the centers, have reported extreme malnourishment and starvation, overcrowding, and a lack of basic amenities like toilets, sleeping mats, and clean water.

Libyan law permits these migrants to be detained indefinitely without access to a lawyer, as well as sold into forced labor, according to the New Yorker.

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