As many as 30 refugees and migrants, including minors, are believed to have been brought to an underground cell and allegedly tortured in Libya for breaking out and holding a protest earlier this week.
An estimated 150 male detainees escaped from the large cell on Tuesday in Tripoli’s Triq al Sikka, where some of them have been held for more than a year, to lodge their protest with Libya’s Department of Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM).
They protested against the conditions under which they have been detained, and demanded a visit from an official from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), according to witnesses.
An estimated 150 detainees broke out of the large cell on Tuesday [Al Jazeera]
The majority of those detained in the past 18 months were returned to Libya by the European Union-funded Libyan coastguard after they tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.
Three witnesses told Al Jazeera how Libyan guards surrounded the male refugees and migrants before beginning to beat them with sticks and metal bars.
They alleged that as many as four people passed out from the beatings. Women, who were being held in a separate area, screamed throughout the ordeal, they said.
The International Rescue Committee, which provides medical care in the detention centre, confirmed that two detainees were taken to hospital on Tuesday, though a spokesperson said they couldn’t confirm why.
Witnesses said dozens of detainees were then put in buses and moved to other detention centres, while two of them said those suspected of leading the protest were rounded up and brought to an underground cell, where they were allegedly tortured.
As many as six of those taken underground are believed to be minors, they said.
“They locked them up because they want to frighten them not to talk and to make the others frightened,” a refugee said.
Those who remained in Triq al Sikka were injured and in need of help, according to detainees who were moved elsewhere.
Witnesses said Tuesday’s protest started after a visit to the detention centre by diplomats from Netherlands.
“They started to beat [us] the moment the embassy staff left the detention centre… Policemen came, about 100 of them from other places and started beating us with metal, plastic and wood,” a witness said.
One refugee, who knew others held in the same underground cell as punishment for trying to escape, said, “People earlier were released after months. That place is so bad. There’s no place to walk, it’s dark, it’s so small.”
Refugees and migrants formerly held in Triq al Sikka have said they were kept in the dark all day, regularly abused, given little food and denied medical help.
In October, a 28-year-old Somali man, returned to Libya by the coastguard, burned himself to death in Triq al Sikka detention centre, after saying he felt hopeless about his chances of getting out.
‘Detention centres must be closed’
An EU spokesperson said they were aware of the report and following the situation closely. “As repeatedly said, the detention centres in Libya must be closed,” the spokesperson said.
“The situation in these centres is unacceptable. The EU raises the unacceptable condition in detention centres in all of its meetings with relevant Libyan authorities at both political and technical level, in Tripoli and elsewhere.”
Rights group Amnesty International’s Matteo De Bellis said of the report of abuse, “if confirmed, constitutes yet another case of brutal violence against people arbitrarily held in Libya’s notoriously abusive detention centres”.
“European governments and institutions keep saying that they advocate the end of arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants, but they have not taken any decisive action to ensure this would happen,” De Bellis said.
Libya’s DCIM, the UNHCR and the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.
Migrants and refugees in Libya are bought to detention centres that are formally under the authority of the country’s interior ministry but in reality are controlled by armed groups, the real power in the country.
Thousands of refugees and migrants are currently being held in indefinite detention by DCIM. Many were deported back to Libya after the boats they were on, en route to Italy, were intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan coastguard.
Among them are people from Somalia, Eritrea, or Sudan – countries at war or having dictatorships, where gross human rights abuses are taking place.
Around 15,000 refugees and migrants were returned to Libya last year under a 2017 deal in which the EU supports the Libyan coastguard to carry out interceptions at sea by supplying funds, ships and training.
Children killed in attack on Cameroonian school
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials. The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of…
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials.
The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“They attacked around noon. They found the children in a class and they opened fire on them,” Kumba sub-prefect Ali Anougou told the Reuters news agency.
At least nine other students were wounded and sent to the hospital. There were fears the death toll could rise.
The Associated Press news agency quoted Anougou as blaming separatists who have been fighting the military in parts of western Cameroon for the attack.
Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions – the Northwest and Southwest Regions – are home to a large minority of English speakers in a country where French speakers are the overwhelming majority – a situation that is the legacy of the decolonisation of western Africa by France and Britain more than 60 years ago.
In late 2016, long-standing complaints of political and economic discrimination against English speakers by the central government spilled over when lawyers, students and teachers began calling for reforms.
The government’s lethal response to the protests provoked rebels to declare in 2017 independence for a region they call “Ambazonia”, triggering a stronger crackdown by the authorities.
Both sides have since been accused of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed some 3,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s government.
Last year, officials blamed separatists for kidnapping dozens of schoolchildren, charges the separatists denied.
Vietnamese envoy hails KRCS’ global humanitarian efforts
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation…
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation for the society’s aid to the Vietnamese Embassy during the coronavirus crisis.
The ambassador added that they discussed providing his country with aid to face the impact of the recent floods and landslides, considered to be the worst in decades. Sayer said he was pleased with the ambassador’s visit and affirmed that KRCS will continue exerting humanitarian efforts to aid those affected by natural disasters and crises everywhere. – KUNA
Pain, frustration: Expats lose jobs to new rules and COVID
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the…
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel
After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the government sector who were being laid off.
As part of its Kuwaitization policy, Kuwait is replacing expats with locals in the government sector. The government has also stopped issuing work permits to expats over 60 years of age without a university degree. These new rules have had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of expats in the country, leaving many with no choice but to pack their bags and leave.
Gulf countries are facing an exodus of foreign workers as the coronavirus pandemic pushes out foreign workers. In the midst of the COVID-19 and financial crunch, the National Assembly approved a draft law to slash expat numbers over the next five years.
As the budget deficit widens and economic conditions worsen, Kuwait is grappling with an economic downturn as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world. The combined shock of collapsing oil prices, the pandemic and joblessness is reshaping labor policies in the region, thus bringing anti-foreigner sentiments to the fore again.
While Kuwait’s expats struggle to secure their jobs, the government is calling for an increase in workforce nationalization in government entities. “Why will foreigners take the jobs meant for us (Kuwaitis)? They can work anywhere – but not in the ministries,” argued Abdullah, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti.
Buttressing Abdullah’s viewpoint, Fatma, an unemployed Kuwaiti woman, complained of the difficulty in competing with foreign workers for jobs in the private sector. “Foreign workers can work longer for less, unlike us Kuwaitis. So most companies prefer to hire non-Kuwaitis. This leaves us with only one sector (the public sector). I think this is why the government introduced Kuwaitization, so as to give unemployed Kuwaitis an opportunity,” she explained.
For Lyon, justice and fairness should override anti-expat sentiments. “It is understandable that ministries would give preference to locals for jobs during these tough times, but it would be fair to consider the efforts of the old staff who have put in their best to build this country,” Lyon, 61, and some of his co-workers who were laid off recently lamented, as they worry about their future.
Expats make up the majority of the population of Kuwait. Residency is tied to employment and Kuwait does not easily offer citizenship routes to non-nationals. “We have been here (in Kuwait) legally for over 20 years. It will be difficult to go back and start afresh in our home countries. More so, Kuwait’s residency is linked to the work permit – when you lose your job, you automatically lose your residency. I worry about my children who are still in school. The three-month notice will not be enough to relocate them,” Mustapha, an Egyptian expat who recently lost his job, said in dismay.
Abdurazak Hamad, an African expat, is in a dilemma. “I feel miserable leaving my family behind. I don’t want to go alone, but I can’t make my wife quit her KD 450 job since she is now the sole breadwinner. Starting afresh in my home country at this age (62) will be very difficult. I wish I can get a permit (residency) to stay here with my family,” said Hamad, who was recently sacked.