Libya's migration detention centres: Horrific and inhumane

For more than a year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing medical care to refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants held inside Tripoli detention centres in Libya, in conditions that are horrific and inhumane.

Detainees are stripped of any human dignity, suffer ill-treatment and lack access to medical care. Detention is causing harm and unnecessary suffering. It is directly linked to the majority of the physical and mental health problems for which detainees require medical attention. People are held arbitrarily with no way to challenge the legality of their detention, virtually no access to consular services or to the outside world.

With no rule of law in Libya, the detention system is harmful and exploitative. There is a disturbing lack of oversight and regulation. With no formal registration or proper record-keeping in place, once people are inside a detention centre there is no way to track what happens to them. Some people are held for prolonged periods of time; others are transferred between different detention centres, moved to undisclosed locations or disappear overnight.MSF witnesses on a daily basis how much unnecessary harm is being caused by detaining people in these conditions. There is only so much medical teams can do to ease the suffering.

MSF calls for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.

An open letter from MSF's President: European governments are feeding Libya’s business of suffering

"The detention of migrants and refugees in Libya is rotten to the core. It must be named for what it is: a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion. And European governments have chosen to contain people in this situation. People cannot be sent back to Libya, nor should they be contained there."

MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu calls on political leaders to acknowledge that closed-border migration policies are driving vulnerable people into horrific mistreatment at the hands of smugglers.

MSF photo report: Human Suffering — Inside Libya's Migrant Detention Centres

Photojournalist Guillaume Binet travelled to Libya in March 2017 to document the plight of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers detained in Tripoli and its surroundings. He gained rare access to several detention centres, including those where MSF is providing medical care.

"The woman with the pink scarf had extensive injuries over her legs. She sat on the ground silently, her breathing shallow and the pain on her face palpable. The other women swatted away the flies landing on the damaged human tissue with their scarves. There had been an attempt to dress the burns with a dirty bandage. One of the women whispered to me: 'We’re scared. No-one wants to stay here. We want to go back home. They are hurting us. They hit us…' But she stopped talking when the guards moved in closer. For some of the women it had been their third attempt to escape Libya by sea only to be intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to a detention centre.I don’t know what happened to the woman with the pink scarf. But without the medical care she so desperately needed, I doubt she is still alive.”

'We are voiceless' A Canadian MSF emergency responder describes her first visits inside Libya's migration detention centres

Tara Newell, an emergency operational manager with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has seen a lot of desperate situations in her 12 years working on the front lines of humanitarian emergencies. But nothing prepared the Canadian from London, Ontario, for what she saw last year when she first travelled to Libya to assess the medical conditions in the country’s notorious migrant detention centres.

“It was like nothing I had ever seen,” she says. “It was so much misery and abuse in one place, and an utter lack of human dignity. People were suffering beyond any measure that I have seen before with my own eyes.”

Other recent updates from Libya:

From the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International Activity Report: