copyright msf caption © Guillaume Binet/Myop
28 May 18 29 May 18

Libya: Over 100 migrants escape clandestine prison under gunfire, survivors say at least 15 dead

During the night, over 100 migrants and refugees managed to escape human traffickers who had been holding them captive in a clandestine prison west of Bani Walid, Libya. Their captors shot at them as they attempted to flee, and 25 injured were referred to Bani Walid General Hospital, where the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team and local staff stabilized them and provided medical treatment. Survivors told MSF of at least 15 people who died while attempting to flee. We were not able to confirm the death toll. Survivors also reported that at least 40 people, the majority of whom were women, remained behind, because they were afraid to escape or could not manage to do so.

Nearly all escapees were victims of torture, with scarred bodies and old wounds. Their visible marks from electrical burns and old infected wounds give an idea as to the ordeal they had suffered. Most are unaccompanied minors. These people are highly vulnerable, and should not be arbitrarily detained. They are in urgent need of protection, assistance and a safe place to recover from trauma.

'Nightmarish captivity'

Civilians of Bani Walid city, including municipal workers, public hospital staff, members of civil organizations, elders, and security forces rushed to assist escapees, and played a major role in protecting them from the armed men looking to re-kidnap them. MSF has been working in Bani Walid for a year, supporting local actors in providing assistance to people who have managed to escape from their nightmarish captivity. MSF runs medical consultations in partnership with a local organization, As Salam, for this extremely vulnerable population, who are often mentally and physically broken, and organize medical referrals for more severe cases. 

This is just another example of the ongoing horrors suffered by migrants and refugees in transit through Libya. MSF has no access to the clandestine prisons in the Bani Walid area, and we do not know how many people are still held in these, but kidnapping for ransom remains a thriving business, boosted by EU-sponsored policies aimed at criminalizing migrants and refugees and preventing them to reach European shores at all cost.

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