‘They tortured my husband and raped me’ – Woman evacuated from Libya

UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

A woman who was evacuated from Libya in 2019 by UNHCR, recounted horrifying experiences of her time in Bani Walid, Libya. Describing it as “worse”, she recalled how her husband was constantly tortured and punished while she was raped repeatedly.

“They had no contraception, so they used plastic bags. Again, I became pregnant and again I lost my baby,” the excerpt reads.

The excerpt from the woman’s testimony is one of many in a recently published UNHCR report titled: ‘On this journey, no one care if you live or die’ – Abuse, protection and justice along routes between East and West Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The report outlines the violations, refugees and migrants face at every step of the way along the migration routes from East and West Africa and through North Africa.

The joint report was prepared by the Danish Refugee Council through its Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) and UNHCR. The MMC through its collection programme 4Mi collected global data and interviewed more than 10,000 refugees and migrants every year on mixed migration routes across the world.

The report is based on 4Mi data collected by the MCC along the routes from sub-Sahara Africa to and through North Africa in 2018 and 2019.

Refugees and migrants face various risks through their journey, with the report highlighting the death risks, risks in detention and the risk of experiencing sexual and gender-based violence.

Sexual and gender-based violence happens on multiple stages of the journey and has been documented through testimonies. A report on Libya notes that ‘much of this violence is carried out in public or filmed for humiliation and/or extortion purposes.

Many women and girls arriving from Libya are believed to have been victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation the report notes.

People from Ethiopia or Eritrea crossing into Sudan are sometimes abducted. They are then sold to traffickers by smugglers. Other times they are held for ransom or sold for sexual or labour exploitation.

“That’s the scar on my face”

In an excerpt from another testimony, a Nigerian woman recalls how a friend had introduced to a woman who had taken her out of Libya. The promise was a job in Europe. Eager to leave the country, eight women left for the new job. Upon their arrival in Libya, the woman had told the victim that they had to work before crossing. Asking about the job, the victim got to know that it was sex work.

“Then I started crying, a friend of mine and I refused to do it. They started to beat us saying we must do it. That’s the scar on my face. They beat us and said we must do it.”

Death along the route

The report also highlights the death risks along the journey. The exact scale of deaths remains unknown.

From the data collected, it has been suggested that some 1,750 people may have died during journeys along the land section of the Central Mediterranean route between 2018-2019. The figure, however, may be higher.

At least 68 refugees or migrants are known to have died along the Central Mediterranean land route in 2020. Many of the deaths happened in Libya and the figure includes 30 individuals who were killed by the family of a trafficker after being reportedly kidnapped and subjected to
physical abuse.

During the sea journey from Libya, some 136 people are known to have died as of 30 June 2020.

A Nigerian man who was interviewed in December 2020, shared his experience while crossing through the desert. The reckless driving by the smuggler led to the death of a man who was travelling with them. The driver buried the man’s body in the desert.

“Then I later realized that there are a lot of people who have died in
the desert because there were many of the same signs in the desert.”

Refugees and migrants also face risk in Libyan detention centres. According to the figures provided by UNHCR, some 2,500 refugees and migrants remained in official detention centres. The conflict in Libya has made refugees and migrants held in detention centres more vulnerable.

A recent report cited in the joint report also shows that 85% of refugees and migrants who had passed through Libya suffered torture and inhuman or degrading treatment while in Libya. The report which was published in March 2020 is based on over three thousand testimonies which were collected between 2014 and 2020.

The journey

What became known as the Central Mediterranean route runs from West Africa and the East and the Horn of Africa to Libya and/or Tunisia, and Egypt. Some attempt to cross to Europe.

The joint report focuses on the movement to Libya as well as to Egypt since data on these routes are consistently collected.

‘On this journey, no one care if you live or die’ – Abuse, protection and justice along routes between East and West Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean coast – UNHCR and Mixed Migration Centre

People leaving their home country move along the Central Mediterranean route differently. Some only travel a section of the route and remain there while others stop to work along the way.