Joint Statement: Crimes against migrants and refugees continue in Libya in latest mass expulsion


9 June 2023

– Libya Crimes Watch (LCW), the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the Defender Center for Human Rights (CHRDA) strongly condemn the mass expulsion of over 3,000 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from the Libyan border town of Musaid.

On 31 May 2023, disturbing images and videos emerged on social media of scores of individuals being forced across the border from Musaid, a Libyan town situated roughly 5 kilometres from the Libya-Egypt border, in a collective expulsion of migrants and refugees. This incident once again raises concerns relating to the serious human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in Libya who have no access to protection measures. 

The mass expulsion is a result of an incident on 29 May 2023 where a 14-year-old child died in crossfire between a border guard of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces’ (LAAF) and smugglers suspected of transporting substantial quantities of illegal narcotics through Musaid. The minor, who was a passenger in a vehicle driven by the smugglers, was shot when border forces opened fire on the vehicle. Consequently, retaliatory attacks by a local tribe reportedly related to the deceased minor, escalated the situation into severe armed confrontations, resulting in the burning down of the border guard battalion headquarters in Musaid. In response, security and military forces under the LAAF were deployed to Musaid on 31 May with the aim of raiding the human trafficking hubs and illicit narcotics storage sites. During the raids on the traffickers’ warehouses and homes, a significant number of migrants of various nationalities including Egyptians, Sudanese and Bangladeshis among others, were found locked inside. 

Following the discovery of the migrants, LAAF forces responded by expelling approximately 3,000 Egyptians, forcing them to walk long distances on foot and transporting them in overcrowded cargo vehicles to the border to release them without assistance. Over 1,000 other victims of other nationalities were returned to detention centers and security headquarters, including facilities of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) that are notorious for their inhumane practices of torture and degrading living conditions. Others were detained at Al-Najda security building and the Criminal Investigation Department in Tobruk city.

This is not an isolated incident. Forces affiliated with the LAAF have allegedly been linked to human trafficking and smuggling networks for many years in numerous incidents of migrant expulsion and exploitation through the southern and eastern borders of Libya. These actions are a direct violation of Libya’s international legal obligations including the principle of non-refoulement, an international legal norm also enshrined in Libya’s Constitutional Declaration of 2011. Mass expulsion is also in direct violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which despite not being party to, Libya still has the legal obligation to uphold the right to asylum for all those on its territory. Moreover, under international law, migrants subjected to return procedures have an inherent right to be treated with respect and dignity, which mass expulsion is in breach of. This is particularly crucial for vulnerable individuals including victims of human trafficking where specific protection and care to mitigate their unique susceptibilities is an essential part of the protection response for victims of trafficking.

This inhumane mass expulsion in Musaid also constitutes violations of International Human Rights Law. The Libyan state is obliged to uphold the protection of life, necessitating the implementation of protective measures for all individuals within its territory and jurisdiction. The right to personal security includes protection against deliberate infliction of bodily or psychological harm, ensuring respect and humane treatment by security forces, and preserving human integrity. However, the expulsion, characterised by inhumane treatment, bear a direct and detrimental impact on the physical and psychological well-being of migrants, and may amount to torture, considering that survivors were coerced to traverse lengthy distances on foot in an open desert-like area. These actions by the Libyan state defy the core tenets of humanity and the dignified treatment of persons as stipulated under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Libya has ratified.

LCW, OMCT and CHRDA urgently call on the Libyan authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into these human rights abuses captured on video. Those responsible must be held accountable, while further investigations must take place on the ongoing abuse of refugees and migrants at the hands of criminal gangs including traffickers.

We urge the Libyan and Egyptian governments to prioritise the protection of migrants and refugees’ rights, including upholding the right to asylum, protection from forced returns, prevention of forced mass expulsion, and respect of due process within return operations.

Finally, we call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to immediately launch a formal investigation into the ongoing crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya amounting to crimes against humanity.  

For media inquiries or further information, please contact:

Libya Crimes Watch (LCW)

The World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)

Defender Center for Human Rights (CHRDA)

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