Libya: “They were shot and killed as they fled arbitrary detention”

31 Jul 2020
Press release
Related Countries

Three people were shot dead and two were severely injured at the disembarkation site in Khoms on Tuesday night, 28 July, after being returned to Libya, the country they were trying to flee. The victims are aged between 15 and 18. This is yet another tragic development showing that migrants in Libya face life-threatening violence and brutality. Vulnerable people should benefit from protection and evacuation out of the country, instead of suffering forced returns and arbitrary detention.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting which took place at a disembarkation site in Khoms on Tuesday 28 July, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) organised the referral of the two injured survivors to a nearby hospital and supported their care. Both were injured by gunshot and are still deeply shocked by the event. One of the two survivors is a relative of one of the three victims, who was shot dead in front of him.

First-hand testimonies gathered by MSF indicate that the three victims and the two injured were part of a group of 73 people intercepted at sea by Libyan coast guards and brought back to Khoms. Among them some dozens of people, all Sudanese nationals, tried to flee the disembarkation site, to avoid being brought into detention, and were shot at.

While some managed to escape, 26 people were finally taken to a detention centre. MSF teams, who provide assistance to vulnerable migrants in detention centres, visited them, and found many who were still in shock and were distressed.

The group was composed of very young people; the three people who were killed and the two injured are all aged between 15 and 18. There are at least eight minors among the 26 people taken to the detention centre.

“What happened on Tuesday is shocking and unacceptable,” said Sacha Petiot, MSF representative in Libya. “Unarmed people were shot and killed just because they ran in despair to flee arbitrary detention. This is inconceivable.”

“As many other refugees and migrants in Libya, these young people have been taken in a cycle of brutality and repression, when they need humanity and protection,” said Petiot.

This is not the first time such tragic events have taken place in Libya – in a similar event, a Sudanese national was killed at a disembarkation site in Tripoli in September 2019.

Other recent examples of violence against migrants in Libya include the atrocious mass killing by human traffickers of 30 Bangladeshi migrants detained in a hangar in Mizdah. In parallel, during the last month, there has been increase of departures and forced return, as well as renewed trend of transfers to detention centres.

As legal pathways such as evacuation flights and resettlement schemes are currently suspended in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, attempting the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean Sea is the only option for people to flee such brutality and abuse.

“Once again, we repeat that Libya cannot be considered a safe place where to bring people intercepted at sea – it is instead a place where violence, brutality, repression and deprivations occur daily for thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” said Petiot. “It is long overdue to halt the policy of forced return in Libya.”

“The EU has to support an effective SAR mechanism in the Mediterranean Sea and a sustainable system of disembarkation in safe ports, rather than encouraging illegal push backs,” Petiot continued. “Legal pathways such as the UNHCR evacuation and resettlement programme must be urgently resumed.”