Libya: UN human rights report details violations of migrants’ rights amid ‘assisted return’ programmes

Geneva, 11 October, 2022.- Widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses against migrants in Libya are compounded by the lack of pathways to protection within and outside the country – meaning migrants are often compelled to accept ‘assisted return’ to their home countries in conditions that may not meet international human rights laws and standards, according to a UN human rights report released today.

“Migrants are frequently compelled to accept assisted return to escape abusive detention conditions, threats of torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, extortion, and other human rights violations and abuses,” the report states. “Collectively, these conditions have created a coercive environment that is often inconsistent with free choice.”

‘Assisted returns’ are, in principle, voluntary. However, the report finds that in reality, many migrants in Libya are unable to make a truly voluntary decision to return in accordance with international human rights law and standards, including the principle of free, prior and informed consent. Many of them find they have no choice but to return to the same circumstances that made them leave their countries in the first place, the report states.

“Any migrant who is returned to a country that is experiencing adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin, including human rights violations and abuses, the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation, armed conflict, persecution, or a combination of these reasons, may end up in an even more vulnerable situation than before,” the report warns.

Returnees also face additional personal, financial and psychosocial burdens, including as a result of the severe trauma they experienced in Libya. In the absence of sustainable solutions to these problems, migrants may have to re-migrate in even more precarious circumstances, it adds.

The report contains testimony from some of the 65 immigrants interviewed by the UN Human Rights Office who had recently been returned to The Gambia.

“They brought me to a prison. But even at that point I didn’t think about going back to Gambia. Then they entered the prison with a stick and were beating people like animals. Sometimes they would take your money and good clothes. They broke my teeth. So, I accepted return,” one of the migrants said.

“I had no chance to ask to seek protection in Libya or elsewhere. I was only offered to go back home,” said another interviewee.

Since 2015, more than 60,000 migrants in Libya have been repatriated to different countries of origin across Africa and Asia through ‘assisted return’ programmes, including at least 3,300 Gambians who have returned from Libya since 2017.

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said “Libya and involved States should take immediate steps to urgently address this untenable, unconscionable situation. Libyan authorities should immediately end all violations and abuses of migrants’ rights. Other States too have responsibility here – they need to step up and provide more protection to migrants trapped in Libya by increasing safe and regular pathways of admission to their territories.”

“This desperate situation requires all concerned to ensure that no migrant is compelled to accept assisted return to an unsafe or unsustainable situation in their country of origin,” Al-Nashif added.

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