Thousands of refugees and migrants are dying, while many suffer human rights abuses on their journey between West and East Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean Coast, said the UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) at the Danish Refugee Council, in a new report released on Wednesday.
Titled ‘On this journey, no one cares if you live or die’, the report details how most people taking these routes suffer or witness unspeakable brutality and inhumanity at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, militias and in some cases even State officials.
“For too long, the harrowing abuses experienced by refugees and migrants along these overland routes have remained largely invisible,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“This report documents killings and widespread violence of the most brutal nature, perpetrated against desperate people fleeing war, violence and persecution.”
The report reveal random killings, torture, forced labour and beatings while others said they had been burnt with hot oil and melted plastic. Still others faced electrocution and being tied in stress positions.
Smugglers and traffickers were key abusers, but so too were State officials, to a surprising extent, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, told journalists at the UN in Geneva.
“In 47% of the cases, the victims reported the perpetrators of violence are law enforcement authorities, whereas in the past we believed that it was mainly smugglers and traffickers”, he said.
“Yes, they are key perpetrators of violence, but the primary perpetrators of violence are people who are supposed to protect.”
Although accurate data is extremely difficult to gather, data suggests that at least 1,750 people died leaving western or eastern African nations en route to countries including Libya, Egypt or Algeria in 2018 and 2019.
This represents more than 70 deaths a month, “making it one of the most deadly routes for refugees and migrants in the world”, UNHCR said in a statement.
Almost three in 10 people died as people attempted to cross the Sahara Desert, according to the UN agency. Other lethal hotspots included locations in southern Libya such as Sabha, Kufra and Qatrun, in addition to the “smuggling hub” of Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli and several places along the west African section of the migrant route, including Bamako in Mali and Agadez in Niger.
To date this year, at least 70 people are known to have died, including 30 killed in June by traffickers in Mizdah, southern Libya, whose victims came from Bangladesh and African countries.
In a note accompanying the report, UNHCR noted that overland deaths are in addition to the “thousands who have died or gone missing” in recent years trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, usually in vessels unfit to make the crossing.
“We can consider that an estimate of 72% minimum died overland even before reaching Libya or Morocco or Egypt, their place of initial destination on their journey,” Mr. Cochetel said.
Among the report’s findings is clear evidence that Libya is by no means the only place where migrants and refugees face life-threatening dangers.
“Abuse actually is along the route and even sometimes it starts within the country of origin and follows people as they move”, said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Senior Regional Advisor to the Director General on Middle East and North Africa.
Highlighting the fact that Libya is not safe for refugees and migrants returned from dangerous sea crossing attempts by the Libyan coast guard, Belbeisi called for solutions beyond the war-ravaged nation.
“The situation is not only in one country, (the) other side of the Mediterranean has also a big responsibility”, he said. (Source: UN News)