Socialist Worker

The EU is to blame for Libya’s migrant torture prison camps

Film evidence showing torture inside refugee camps in Libya was released just as Europe’s rulers made a deal to trap more migrants in North Africa, reports Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2644

Migrants in a Libyan detention centre that holds up to 720 people

Migrants in a Libyan detention centre that holds up to 720 people (Pic: Alessio Romenzi/UNICEF)

Horrific footage of refugee camps in Libya released last week has shown up the reality facing people fleeing war, dictatorship and poverty.

Film obtained by Channel 4 News showed scenes of squalor and torture in detention camps on the Libyan coast.

Footage showed people being whipped, beaten and tortured with molten plastic while guns were held to their heads. Graffiti daubed on the wall of one camp in Khums declares, “Libya is a market for human beings.”

A few days earlier European Union (EU) rulers planned to make it a whole lot worse.

At a summit of the EU and the Arab League, top politicians discussed ways to keep migrants and refugees out of Europe. Instead, trapped in North Africa, they are forced into detention camps or into the hands of people traffickers and slave traders.

The EU’s Fortress Europe policies have already turned Libya into a mass prison camp.


At every turn of the refugee crisis the EU has tried to deter refugees by making the routes into Europe deadlier.

First it signed a deal with the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erodgan in 2015 that made it easier to deport refugees who had reached Greece.

This closed off the short route across the Aegean Sea and forced some to go to Libya.

Then in 2017 the EU signed a deal to cooperate with the Libyan coastguard in catching refugees trying to make the dangerous sea crossing to Europe. There were an estimated 662,000 migrants in Libya in 2018, ­according to the International Migration Organisation.

That’s a massive leap from 40,000 in the previous year.

Now the EU has been pushing for “disembarkation platforms” in North Africa. These are processing centres—effectively EU-funded detention camps—for migrants caught in the sea. Italy’s racist interior minister Matteo Salvini has now stopped refugee rescue ships from docking in its ports.

And the EU is funnelling money to the different forces that control Libya to pick up refugees and take them back to North Africa.

After refugees are caught by the Libyan coast guard, many are sold back to people traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families.

The EU plans were dropped at the summit, for now. But their joint declaration did promise a “strengthening of the fight against irregular migration”. That’s surely a promise of more repressive measures against refugees.

It’s the EU’s plans that create the conditions for detention camps, torture and slave trading.

Having barred the route to safety in Europe, our rulers are now ­working to make a hell on earth.

The solution is to open the borders and let the refugees in.

How the West fuelled chaos, conflict and bloodshed

The horrors in Libya were caused by Western imperialism and the retreats of the Arab revolutions in 2011.

A popular uprising broke out against the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011.

It was inspired by revolutions in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt that brought down Western-backed dictators and challenged imperialism.

After decades of antagonism, Gaddafi had become the West’s new ally in the “war on terror” and early attempts to stop refugees. The EU had an agreement with Gaddafi to clamp down on refugees sailing from Libya.

Faced with a wave of popular rebellion against its allies across the Middle East and North Africa, the West fought to regain control.

It’s governments hoped that providing military support with strings attached would help them take control of the outcome.

So the US, Britain and France all bombed Libya under the guise of “humanitarian intervention”. The bombing caused destruction and opened the door for rival generals and militias to begin a brutal struggle for power.

A 2016 report by MPs slammed then Tory prime minister David Cameron, one of the bombing campaign’s most vocal supporters.

It said he was responsible for “migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isis in North Africa”.

‘I survived the Libya crossing’

One refugee, who we’ve named Ahmed, fled from the Sudanese regime and made it to Britain in 2018.

In the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Libya

In the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Libya (Pic: Kevin McElvaney/MSF)

He got into Europe after staying somewhere on Libyan coast.

Ahmed described his journey to Socialist Worker. “We left Libya to go to Italy late at night,” he said. “There were 100 or so people on the boat, most of them women and children.”

Ahmed described how the people on his boat were rescued by one of the charity ships that were operating in the Mediterranean. “We were going through the sea with the waves,” he said. “I then heard an ambulance noise. A rescue team came across us—we were lucky that they found us.”

Ahmed was taken to Sicily in southern Italy where he received some help from aid workers. “My toe nails had been pulled off when I was tortured by the Sudanese security services,” he explained.

Racism forced Ahmed and many others to travel further in search of safety. Ahmed said, “In Italy they do not want black people, they do not want refugees, so we left Italy and we went to Belgium and tried Brussels. And then we were around Calais and Dunkirk”.

Eventually Ahmed made it on the back of a truck to Britain in 2018 where he is now trying to claim asylum seeker status.

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