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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Somali asylum seeker lost her baby in Libyan detention centre

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Militia rule in Libya means country is still dangerous for sub-Saharan Africans.

Staff members of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees were told of the harrowing detention conditions and abuse at the hands of armed militias in Libya, by some of the 92 Somalis - 71 men and 11 women - rescued by the Maltese armed forces on 29 March.

"They describe a Libya which is still in parts under militia rule - some regions and areas remain beyond central government control. In this environment, Sub-Saharan nationals are finding themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation," UNHCR said in a statement.

The UNHCR Representative in Malta, Jon Hoisaeter, is concerned about the many recent reports describing lawlessness, violence and abuse: "It is clear that for many asylum seekers the new Libya is still not a safe place."

"You are an animal, you are black," a Somali asylum-seeker recounted recent abuse and discrimination in Libya. "This is how we are treated there," he said.

Some of the asylum seekers spent over a year in different detention centres in Benghazi and Tripoli. "Two friends of mine died in detention there," one Somali man lamented, "no one took them to hospital when they needed care."

One of the Somali women told UNHCR Malta staff that she was held in prison six times during her time in Libya.

"Come here Somali - come to the car! This is how they call at you - uniformed men; I am not sure who they are. They have guns; they attack you and then they put you in prison."

"I lost my baby because of them," another Somali woman adds. "They held me in prison and there was no care - it was no place for a pregnant woman". She also told UNHCR Malta that she had been unaware that such a small dinghy would be used for the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. "When I first saw it, I thought I was going to die. But there was no alternative - I had to leave Libya behind. We had no idea were we would end up."

The group spent three days on the sea before the engine broke down and they were rescued by Armed Forces of Malta patrol vessels. "We were so happy to be rescued - the soldiers on the boat treated us well. They are very good people."

UNHCR staff in Libya has access to some detention centres in the country. Their recent assessments confirm that detention centres are often overcrowded, in poor condition, with little or no medical care available.

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