September 21, 2009

XVI. Migrant Detention Centers: Conditions and Abuses

Former detainees from all migrant detention centers in Libya told Human Rights Watch that conditions of detention were poor. The detention centers are overcrowded and dirty, the food is inadequate and health care is virtually nonexistent. There is almost no communication with the authorities and it is hopeless even to contemplate challenging one’s detention in court. There is little to no contact with lawyers or information about the reasons for and length of detention. Treatment by guards ranges from negligent to brutal, and corruption is endemic.

There is no limit to the time the authorities can detain irregular migrants administratively for the supposed purpose of arranging their deportation, even if there are no foreseeable prospects for effectuating their removal. A diplomatic source in Libya told Human Rights Watch that migrants can be detained “from a few weeks to 20 years.”[183] He said that the decision to release is based mostly on overcrowding and that people are released at the point at which detention centers become too full to hold any more.

Libya is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 9 of which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention [or] be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.” Detention is considered “arbitrary” if it is not authorized by law or in accordance with law. It is also arbitrary when it is random, capricious, or not accompanied by fair procedures for legal review.[184]

Arbitrary detention has also been defined not only as contrary to law but as including elements of injustice and lack of predictability. Due to the growing phenomenon of indefinite detention of migrants and refugees, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has developed criteria for determining whether the deprivation of liberty of migrants and asylum seekers is arbitrary. Principle Three mandates that a migrant or asylum seeker placed in custody “be brought promptly before a judge or other authority,” and Principle Seven requires that a “maximum period should be set by law and the custody may in no case be unlimited or of excessive length.”[185]

Many detention centers and jails hold migrants in Libya.[186] What follows are accounts of the detention centers most commonly mentioned by former detainees now in Malta and Italy.


Kufra, located in remote southeastern Libya, was the most frequently mentioned place of detention in Libya among the migrants Human Rights Watch interviewed in Italy and Malta. It is a place where people were detained upon entering the country as well as when they were about to be deported across the land borders with Sudan and Egypt. But “Kufra” does not mean a single detention center. Although there is a government-run migrant detention center at Kufra, smugglers also operate their own detention facilities there. Migrants are sometimes unclear about which is which: some describe the government-run center as “looking more like a house than a prison;”[187] others describe the guards at the private facilities as sometimes wearing military uniforms. Most migrants regard the smugglers and the police as working together, so, in their understanding, there is little distinction between private and official detention facilities. In both, migrants are held indefinitely, have minimal communication with their jailers (most of which takes the form of hitting and beating) and are not released until they pay bribes. All fear being dumped in the desert.

Although this section of the report focuses on Kufra, these accounts should be read as a snapshot of a continuous, traumatic journey. The descriptions of abuse in Kufra should not be read in isolation but as part of a continuum of hardship and abuse. It also should be noted that a number of migrants told Human Rights that they were held in Kufra multiple times—upon entering Libya as well as in the course of being deported, although, at least among the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the deportations were not fully carried out. Rather, migrants would be released from Kufra prison—often directly into the hands of smugglers who would take them into custody, demand more money from their families, and take them once again to the cities along the coast.


Kufra Detention Center

The location of the official detention center at Kufra raises fears among migrants of deportation or abandonment in the desert. The detention center has a central courtyard and six large detention rooms, each of which can hold more than 100 people. Depending on the number of people being held, some of the rooms at times stand empty, even though this can create unnecessarily overcrowded conditions in the occupied rooms. The facility is surrounded by high walls with only air holes near the ceiling so the detainees cannot see anything outside. There is no doctor or nurse on site or available. Everyone sleeps on the floor either with shared mattresses or no mattresses at all. At most, people are allowed outside once per day when the guards conduct their count of detainees. Although this is the one chance to breathe fresh air, it is also the time when the most beatings occur.

Ghedi, a 29-year-old Somali, described his time in the Kufra detention center in April 2008:

I was caught when I entered the country and the police took us to Kufra prison. It was a very bad prison. There were about 600 people being held there. We all slept on the floor. There were no mattresses. There was one toilet for every 100 people. They gave us soap once a week.
The guards beat us for no reason. They would slap us all the time. Once I was beaten with the butt of a rifle. The guards especially came to beat us at night when they were high from smoking hashish. Some guards kicked with their boots, others hit with their hands or with a weapon. We would just be sleeping before the beatings. We didn’t make any demands. We did nothing. I was beaten all over my body.
The first time I paid $300 and was not released. Then I paid another $500 and was released. It was at night. The smugglers and the police—or the army—were the same. They were all the same.[188]

Abdul, a 22-year-old Somali man who left Somalia in 2006 because of political violence, spent two months in Kufra in March and April 2008 where he stayed in a windowless room with 45 people. Abdul estimated that the Kufra detention center held a total of 300 people. He said that the center operated under the authority of the police in Kufra. He said that there was never enough food and that six people would have to share a handful of rice. He said that he shared a dirty mattress on the floor with others. Abdul also shared one toilet with the 45 people in the same room where they slept and ate. “It was very dirty and the toilet smelled when you were eating.” He was part of a family group, one of whom was a woman:

The guards wanted to force themselves sexually on her. I tried to stop them. They hit me. They punched me in the eye and hit me with sticks. They took me into a separate room and used electric shocks on me. They put my legs up and my head down and hung me upside down for 15 to 20 minutes and put electric shocks on my arms and stomach.[189]

Abdul also said that he saw the guards at Kufra put a hot metal poker through the ear of a detainee who was caught trying to escape.  “They made the metal very hot and melted his ear,” he said.

Iskinder, a 40-year-old Ethiopian man said that he was arrested by the Libyan police and spent one month in the Kufra detention center where he said beating was common:

We couldn’t understand the guards or them us. They communicated with a stick. If I wanted to open the door, the guard would kick me to get me to move away. I saw some people get their legs broken from beatings.
The police said they would deport us, but then they took us to pay money to smugglers to take us to Tripoli. Those without money stayed in Kufra. I paid. Everything depends on money.[190]

Abdi Hassan, a 23-year-old Somali, was arrested on January 22, 2008, as soon as he entered Kufra town, and spent the next three months in the Kufra detention center. He described the “normal” level of beating and abuse:

They hit us randomly every day with police sticks. Sometimes they hit us with their fists or kicked us with their boots. The beatings mostly happened during counts at the 6 am and 6 pm shift changes, but the beatings could happen any time during the day or night. There were ten guards in all, five for each shift, and there were a couple of guards who did most of the beating.
People would complain of a lack of food and get beaten. There was a lot of conflict. There were a large number of people in a small room and there was a lack of food. We went for two days once with no food. Usually we would eat once or twice every two days. There was never enough food. The bathrooms leaked and the sewage water would leak into the dormitory room. The conditions were very bad.[191]

Kufra Private Detention Centers

Although some of the buildings where migrants are held against their will are clearly owned and operated by Libyan civilian smugglers, in many cases the smugglers acted like police or military, including by flashing law enforcement credentials or using equipment that looked official, so that migrants were often left with the distinct impression that the smugglers were connected with the authorities.

Among the migrants, the private centers are known by various names: “The Project,” “The Farm,” or “the place of [Name withheld].” In some locations, people are kept in closed rooms; elsewhere, the places are desert compounds where detainees sleep in the open.

The fear engendered by the Kufra detention centers was not only because of the poor conditions and mistreatment, but also because the fate of the migrants was completely in the hands of their captors, and all feared that they would be left in the desert to die. Berihu, a 32-year-old Eritrean man, described how after 18 days crossing the Sahara desert his group of 65 people were locked in a house in Kufra for two weeks, where the smugglers demanded that the detainees have their families wire them money:

We had nothing. We suffered from the Sahara trip. We were ready to die. Everything was dark, the future was dark. We didn’t expect anything. If you tried to exit the door, they would beat you with a stick. They acted like police. They wore military clothing and used black police batons. They said they were military and told us we had arrived illegally in their country. But they were not real military.
I saw them take women away. They took a woman with her husband. They made them exit together, but then when they got outside the room, they separated them. They took the wife from the husband and raped her.
I speak a little Arabic, so I tried to talk to them, but they responded by beating me, so I was obliged to remain silent.
Everybody had to pay money to exit the place. When we paid, they turned us over to another criminal who took us to Benghazi.[192]


Tripoli Area Migrant Detention Facilities

Migrants told Human Rights Watch about being held in detention centers in and around Tripoli but usually did not know the actual names and specific locations of the places they were held, sometimes for months. Especially since one of the most utilized detention facilities, Al Fellah, has been closed, it is not certain that the migrants are actually describing the same place. Nevertheless, the description of conditions and treatment is important to document even if the exact locations cannot be specified with certainty.

Zula, a 28-year-old Eritrean interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Rome, spent three months in a jail in Tripoli in 2006. He did not know or remember the name of the place, but was able to recall what it was like:

It was very overcrowded. There was no space. We all had skin diseases. We were not able to wash or keep clean. It was very hot. There were just small windows at the top of the room. There was no air. We were not allowed to go outside.[193]

Ermi, a 25-year-old Eritrean, similarly described the overcrowded conditions in the Tripoli detention center in 2006, but went on to talk about the brutality of the guards:

The guards said nothing to us. The only contact was when they counted us once a day. If you said anything, they would hit you with a black police club. I saw them hit a lot of people. The beating was not just to move people; it was to hurt people. They broke arms. They injured people. It was normal. Violence against women was also common. They threatened to take women into another room for sex. We were all afraid they would take us to Kufra. I escaped after one week. One of my best friends broke his leg climbing the wall. They took a lot of my friends to Kufra to take them to the border of Sudan and Libya.[194]

The Airport

There is a new detention center at Towisha near the Tripoli airport that appears now to be the largest migrant detention center in Libya, holding on any given day about 900 people, some who have been there for two years, even though it is supposedly for short-term detention. The detainees are rarely allowed out of their windowless, high-walled rooms, and when they do leave the rooms it is only to enter a small courtyard that has no views outside except straight up to see the sky. Ironically, Towisha has a well maintained garden outside its walls, which the detainees never see. Towisha is used mostly for migrants who are in the process of being deported by air from Libya, which is the way most people are deported.

Human Rights Watch was not able to interview any former detainees from Towisha, perhaps because it is relatively new or perhaps because most of the people held there are returned to their home countries. We did, however, interview Aron, a 36-year-old Eritrean man who said that he was detained for one month at the airport in 2007, though he wasn’t certain whether it was a proper, legal detention facility or not:

I was held in the airport jail for one month and beaten regularly. I’m not sure if it was a legal place. It was metal and during the day it was hot and cold at night. I paid a $500 bribe to get out. They are thieves. They just keep people to make money. They are doing business...They put them in bad conditions so the people will communicate with their families and get money.[195]

Jawazat Detention Center

Aman, a 26-year-old Eritrean, described the Jawazat center in Tripoli as a prison:

There were no mattresses, no blankets, no sheets. There were 32 nationalities and 75 people in one room, about 300 in all. The food was not adequate. For 300 people there was one single toilet. It was very dirty. There was no medical care.
The guards were the same as at Misrata. It was normal for them to beat us. They would beat us near the big boss’s office. The used electric shocks, but did not do the beating on the bottom of the foot.[196]

Tomas, an Eritrean quoted above, was held at Jawazat for two months at the end of 2006:

We were in the same room with 160 others—all in one room. It was like a parking garage with only small holes for windows at the top. We had to urinate in plastic bottles to throw away in the evening. We were only allowed to use the toilet once a day. Many people had skin problems. There was no soap. They gave us water in a jar to drink. Many of us had stomach problems. We had to beg the guards to take sick people to the toilet.
The guards were cruel. They were drug addicts. We watched them smoking hashish every day. They would joke, “Where are the Christians who are not fasting?” [It was Ramadan.] You could see how they would separate and speak to us that they did not like Christians.
One day we were singing songs. The guards came and said, “Who is making this noise?” The others said, “The Christians.” They took out the six of us and beat us. They beat the bottom of our feet with a wooden stick. They hit the soles of both of our feet for 5 to 10 minutes. Two guards put a wood plank under our legs. They then tied our legs to the wood. We fell down on our backs, and then they beat our feet. They did this to all six of us. They just beat our feet. They know if you are beaten that you are unable to walk afterwards, but they made us run around the courtyard after beating our feet. This took place at midnight.
The manager of the camp was not there when this happened, but all of the guards knew what was happening.
I’m okay now. There was no permanent damage, but the prison was very severe for me. It goes to your identity of who you are. They see you as inferior and you feel inferior to them, physically and spiritually.[197]

Detention Centers along Libya’s Northwestern Coast (outside Tripoli)


Al-Zawiya, a town to the southwest of Tripoli, has one of Libya’s biggest migrant detention centers. It is commonly used for failed boat migrants who are returned to Libya, including most of the women who have been interdicted since the start of Italy’s push-back policy in May 2009. Al-Zawiya is a notoriously dirty and overcrowded facility. The accounts received by Human Rights Watch describe the detention rooms as being about 8x8 meters and there are often as many as 150 men in them at a time. The rooms for women are not as crowded simply because there are fewer of them in a comparable space.

Abdul, the 22-year-old Somali who also is quoted in describing his two months in Kufra detention center, was arrested and taken to Al-Zawiya after his boat was interdicted by the Libyan navy. “It was not a good prison,” he said. “It was like Kufra. It was very dirty. It was run by the police, not the military.” Abdul said that he bribed a guard to escape Zawiya.[198]

Adeban, a 27-year-old Ghanaian, who was detained at Al-Zawiya for three months, said that he was beaten every morning with ten lashes during the count. He finally was released after paying a $200 bribe.[199]

Innocent, a 19-year-old Nigerian, was detained in Al-Zawiya in 2007. He said that it was a deportation camp, but for him deportation did not necessarily mean return to Nigeria; it could just as well mean death in the desert:

People were beaten there every day. They were knocked hard with wooden clubs. If you said you were a Christian, they would beat you and throw you in the desert. I forget the names of the people who died. They said “Allah gali,” God’s blessings, so we knew they were dead.[200]



Misrata, a detention facility on the coast about 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, became in recent years, in effect, a specialized center mostly for Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers and other people of concern to UNHCR. It usually held about 600 to 700 people, some for two or three years.

Because of the involvement of UNHCR at Misrata and the presence of its NGO partners who provide services there, Misrata is considered as Libya’s showcase migrant detention center, and it has been relatively open to journalists and NGOs. Nevertheless, migrants told Human Rights Watch they were routinely beaten at Misrata.  Sometimes the beating started upon arrival. After arriving exhausted, dehydrated, and frightened, Libyan security and police officials greet them, at best, with uncaring callousness and, at worst, with outright brutality.  According to UNHCR, such beatings and other abuses stopped in 2007 with the presence of UNHCR and its NGO partners.[201]

Daniel, a 26-year-old Eritrean, who was previously quoted about being interdicted and returned by the Maltese coast guard in July 2005,[202] was beaten on the docks upon return to Tripoli, crammed with many other people into a closed truck, and transported to Misrata.  His story continues:

When we arrived at Misrata, they opened the doors of the truck. As soon as the doors opened, the guards were waiting and they started beating us right away. They beat us with sticks to get us out of the truck.
We were treated badly at Misrata. We were Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and a few Somalis. The rooms were not clean. We were only given a half hour a day to take air outside and the only reason they let us out at all was to count us. We sat in the sun. Anyone who spoke would be hit. I was beaten with a black plastic hose.
There was no UNHCR. No one came to see us. Even the police never questioned us. They never talked to us. They never told us anything. There was another room for women and children. Every night the guards took women for their pleasure. I met one pregnant woman who was ready to give birth. She gave birth there in the prison with us.[203]

Daniel said that some people were detained in Misrata for nine months. Aman, a 26-year-old Eritrean man, who spent a month at Misrata after his disabled boat carrying 172 people returned to Libya on May 21, 2004, told how beatings were more frequent on Fridays when supervision of guards was more lax and they took drugs:

I was arrested trying to leave Libya. When we started the boat, the steering wheel and compass broke, so we turned back after one hour. The police were there as soon as the boat landed. They beat me on the hands and arms. They first took us to the Kumas police station near the sea, where we spent a day. From there, they took us to Misrata where we spent one month. At Misrata, everyone was beaten. We were not treated well.
At night time, beatings were normal. On Fridays, the beatings were the worst. The guards took drugs especially on Fridays and beat the prisoners. The bosses left on Fridays, so we were just with the guards. They beat everyone. They would take us into a small room for bigger beatings. Sometimes they hit us with a stick, a police baton, but sometimes with a metal stick. They would mostly hit us inside the foot. Sometimes they used electric shocks. The electric power was inside a wire that they would touch to the skin. Sometimes they whipped us with an electric wire without the electricity.
We did not have enough food at Misrata. The breakdown of detainees was about 80 percent Eritrean and 20 percent Ethiopian.[204]

Others were brought to Misrata after being apprehended on the road between Kufra and the coast. Jonas, a 39-year-old Eritrean, was arrested shortly after his arrival in Libya on October 12, 2008:

We were arrested on the road to Tripoli and taken to Misrata. It was so bad there. There was no respect for rights. Nobody knows how many months you will be held there. I stayed the whole time in a closed room with 25 other people. It was dirty. We slept in the same room as the toilet. The guards beat us. They beat us every time we tried to talk to them. They beat us with police sticks. Three or four of them would beat one person. We had no communication with them at all. After three months I escaped.[205]

Some former detainees mentioned the presence of UNHCR at Misrata, but spoke of abuse that continued at the facility despite greater international oversight than other locations. Teame, a 28-year-old Eritrean spent ten months detained in Misrata in the summer of 2007. He said that everyone there was Eritrean and that UNHCR came every couple of months and took some refugees away, but that did not make him feel any more secure with the guards:

The treatment was very bad there, there was beating though not as bad as I’d experienced in other places. I was hit with a stick and with the back of the gun. There were many of us and we were all hit. Every day there was beating. The language they communicated with us with was beating. When you ask for food they would hit us.
The women were usually treated slightly better than us, but I know that one woman was beaten until her leg was paralyzed. There was another girl who was beaten on her kidney and she was in great pain. There was no respect for women.
Two of our group died in Misrata – they were sick and got no care. We didn’t know what illness they had. One was 26 and one 20 years old. No doctors came to Misrata.
The guards were not human. They would count us one by one and make us stand in the blazing sun for hours. If anyone objected or talked they would beat us. The beating can’t be explained because I was beaten everywhere. If any of the guards had a personal problem at home he would take it out on us by beating us.
I paid 700 dinars [approximately $360] to the guards to release me after 10 months of detention. I paid the bribe to two guards: one to operate the gate, the other to wait on the other side to let me out. We were a group of 50-60 who got out this way. [206]

Although UNHCR and its NGO partner, IOPCR, have recently established a health clinic in Misrata with three full-time doctors, former detainees said that medical care was not available even for seriously ill detainees as recently as 2007. Madihah, a 24-year-old Eritrean woman, described the lack of medical conditions:

There was no treatment for prisoners, no medical attention. Some went mad, some had babies in jail. Everyone was suffering from allergies. I heard a man died there two months ago because of his lack of medical care. You could see the insects around the wounds.[207]

Although Misrata has been more open to outsiders than other migrant detention centers in Libya, visits that NGOs and journalists have paid there have revealed an undercurrent of threat and intimidation. Italian journalist Gabriele del Grande and Roman Herzog, a German broadcast journalist, were permitted to visit Misrata on November 20, 2008 but not allowed to interview detainees privately. The camp director, Colonel ‘Ali Abu ‘Ud, hovered nearby listening to the detainee complaints until he could bear it no longer. Del Grande reports:

Colonel Abu ‘Ud follows the conversation with the help of an interpreter. He can’t stand it anymore: “Do you want to return to Eritrea?” he asks J., interrupting the interview. “I’d rather die,” he replied, “as would everyone here.” The director became angry. He starts to threaten. “If you want to go to Eritrea, we will repatriate you in a single day.”
 “They forbid us to talk with you,” J. says to Roman. The director is furious. He screams, “Tell them that they will all be returned.” Then he comes closer to Roman and orders: “Finished.” Roman tries to protest. “We’re finished,” Abu ‘Ud repeats, while two agents pull us toward the exit. Before leaving the courtyard, the Colonel speaks loudly to all the refugees: “If you feel mistreated here, we’ll organize your return immediately. You have already refused to go to your country. That is why you are here. But each of you is free to return to Eritrea. Who wants to go to Eritrea?” “None!” answers the crowd.  “Have you seen?” the director says again to Roman. “Now we are really finished.”[208]


From the outside Zuwara looks more like a house than a detention center, but inside the doors are bricked over and closed. The detainees sleep on the floor. Former detainees say they were provided with food and water and nothing more. It is one of the places where many of the boat migrants returned by the Italians since May 2009 have been taken.

Abdikarim, a 21-year-old Somali, was on a boat the Libyan navy interdicted in March 2008.  They brought him back to Libya and sent him to the Zuwara detention center, where he spent the next three months:

The conditions were terrible but I had no personal problems with any of the guards, so nothing happened to me. If a guard told you to do something and you didn’t do it immediately, they would hit you. There were 20 of us. We slept on the floor. They let us out for around ten minutes a day.[209]

Abdikarim said that the guards told the detainees that they could pay their way out. He paid $700 to win his release.


Some migrants who fail in their attempts to leave by boat are taken to a detention center in Zleitan, a port city east of Tripoli. Mohammed Hassan, a 27-year-old Somali man with bruises on his chest and legs, spoke to Human Rights Watch about his recent experiences in the Zleitan detention center after his boat failed:

The motor did not work. We were on the boat for four days with no food or water. Three people died. When we got back to the shore, the police were waiting for us on the beach. They tried to take bribes but only one of our group of 56 had enough money to bribe them. They took the rest of us to the Zleitan jail, where we spent the next 24 days.
There was not enough food. We had rice with soup. It was full of salt and hurt my stomach. Everyone there had scabies and skin diseases. I became sick. I had a carbuncle on my chest. There was no medicine. Forget medicine.
When I told them I was sick, they took me outside and beat me. They hit me for about a half hour with metal sticks and electric wires. I was beaten more than five times at Zleitan. The manager of the jail did not beat the people, just the guards. I still have bruises on my chest and legs from the beatings.
They transferred me to another jail, Garabulli. It was better than Zleitan because I was not beaten there. The manager at Garabulli takes bribes. I wrote to my mother and she sent me money. She sent serial numbers for $800 signed over to him. When he got the money, he sent me free. I spent four months in detention.[210]

Many of the migrants who have been interdicted and returned to Libya by the Italians have also been taken to Garabulli.

 Abdi Hassan, a 23-year-old Somali, was on a boat that sunk and was rescued by a private boat that brought him to Zleitan. Upon arrival, soldiers apprehended him, put him and 25 others in a closed car, and transported them to what he described as the Zleitan “coast guard prison.” There he was held with the other 25 of his fellow passengers in a 10x10 meter room where, he said, “The young Libyan soldiers played with us by beating and mistreating us.” He was held in this room for a month.  

Abdi Hassan was released from Zleitan on July 7, 2008. He described his release:

The head of the prison used me to translate an announcement to all the prisoners. He said, “It’s time for business. Everyone has to pay us $1,000 for rescuing them at sea. Those who pay will be sent to the smugglers to help them go to Europe.” Most of us paid the money. We were all released and taken by police car to the Abu Salim neighborhood and put at the door of the smuggler’s house, back where we had started before our boat sank.[211]


Another migrant center where migrants report abusive treatment by guards is the Sabratha migrant detention center located on the coast, west of Tripoli, midway to Zuwara. Tomas, a 24-year-old Eritrean, told Human Rights Watch about being tortured by the guards there in June 2007 as punishment for an attempted escape:

At the doors of the prison we all started running. About 32 people ran in all directions; 18 were caught. I was one of those who was caught. When they caught me the commanders knew that I was the one leading the escape. I earned the punishment for all those who got away.
I was beaten by wood and metal sticks by three guards. They beat me for more than 10 minutes. They called me “nigger” as they beat me. When I fell to the ground, they kicked me. They beat me with a metal stick on my head. I have scars and pain inside my head. I still have pains in my shoulder. The metal sticks were thin, but they did not bend.
They beat me as soon as they caught me. Those of us who ran away they tied up in a special way. For two days they kept us separated from the others. They splashed us with water. I could not walk from the pain in my groin. I was really afraid of internal bleeding in my head. We couldn’t even think about seeing a doctor or a nurse.
I was held in Sabratha for two weeks. Sabratha held about 100 people. There were Eritreans, West Africans, Ethiopians. It was a very dirty place. We had to urinate in plastic bottles. Some of the people who beat me at the beginning were my guards for the next two weeks. They continued to treat me harshly. They continued to beat me up.
When the prison administrator was there the treatment was better. They don’t beat you up in front of the administrator. Of course, the guards take drugs. When they are high they feel much superior and treat us like dogs. That’s when they physically kick us like dogs.[212]


Ganfuda is a migrant detention center outside Benghazi, which as of this writing holds about 450 detainees, mostly Somalis and Eritreans.  Some of the detainees have been in Ganfuda for as long as five years, according to migrants’ accounts. Migrants describe it as looking like a prison. Abdi Hassan, the Somali man who was quoted in his description of the Kufra detention center, was held for six months at Ganfuda. Unlike most migrant detention centers where contact between guards and detainees is minimal, at Ganfuda, according to Abdi Hassan, each detainee was individually questioned (and beaten):

About 100 Somali prisoners were there. Each of us was called out for interrogation in a separate room. When I got into the room, the son of the chief of the prison questioned and beat me. Other guards stood by, but he beat me with a wooden club. He spent three or four minutes beating the sole of my foot. He hit each foot about five or six times.[213]

Abukar, a 25-year-old Somali, had been in Ganfuda for more than one year at the time Human Rights Watch interviewed him.  He was being kept in a room with 70 other Somalis.  He said, “The guards just keep us locked up here.  They humiliate us.  They beat us.  If we talk to them, they punish us very hard.  They hurt us with electricity.”[214]  Abukar told Human Rights Watch about an incident that occurred on August 10, 2009:

Last night a group of Somalis and Nigerians saw the external gate was open and tried to escape.  The guards opened fire on them.  There were around 30 guards, but five did the shooting.  I could see most of my friends were injured, and some fell to the ground.  I could see someone shot by three bullets.  I don’t know whether any of them were killed.  Around 30 to 50 managed to escape, but guards brought some of them back, including some who were unconscious.  One hour later, extra guards came and they started beating us.[215]

The Voice of America reported on the incident, including a denial by the Libyan ambassador to Somalia that there had been a prison escape or anyone killed.[216]  Somali news sources reported 20 detainees as having been shot and killed.[217]


[183] The source requested anonymity.

[184] Moreover, migrants and asylum seekers in detention must be notified in writing—in a language they understand—of the grounds for detention and that remedy may be sought from a judicial authority empowered to decide promptly on the lawfulness of detention and to order release if appropriate. United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, E/CN.4/2000/4, December 28, 1999, Annex II, Deliberation No. 5, “Situation Regarding Immigrants and Asylum Seekers,” (accessed March 6, 2006).

[185] Ibid.

[186] Migrant detention centers in Libya include Misrata, Zleitan, Al-Zawiya, Garabulli, Surman, Towisha, Zuwara, Kufra, Ganfuda (Benghazi), Al-Qatrun, Ajdabiya, Sirte, Sabratha, and Bani Walid.  We also heard frequent mention of Sabratha and Jawazat (featured in this chapter), and Bin Gashir.

[187] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H 32), Malta, May 4, 2009.

[188] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B27), Lyster Barracks, Malta, May 4, 2009.

[189] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B37), Caltanissetta, Sicily, May 8, 2009.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B13), Malta, May 3, 2009.

[191] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H 32), Malta, May 4, 2009.

[192] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B64), Rome, May 19, 2009.

[193] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B62), Rome, May 19, 2009.

[194] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B63), Rome, May 19, 2009.

[195] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, R/L5), Caltanissetta, Sicily, October 28, 2008.

[196] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H1), Malta, May 1, 2009. By contrast, two other former detainee accounts of conditions in Jawazat describe beatings on the sole of the foot. The following testimony on this page, by Tomas, describes being beaten on the sole of the foot. Another source, Fortress Europe, includes a former Jawazat detainee saying, “One of the practices used in this prison was the one of truncheon blows to the sole of the foot, a point that is particularly sensitive to pain.” “Escape from Tripoli: Report on the Conditions of Migrants in Transit in Libya,” Fortress Europe, October 25, 2007, p. 18.

[197]Tomas Interview,

[198]Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B37), Caltanissetta, Sicily, May 8, 2009.

[199] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B55), Palermo, May 13, 2009.

[200] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B58), Lampedusa, May 14, 2009.

[201] UNHCR email to Human Rights Watch, August 12, 2009.

[202] See Maltese and Libyan Interdiction Prior to May 2009.

[203]Daniel’s Testimony, Daniel’s story about his transport to the border to be deported continues in the section on Refoulement and Border Dumping.

[204]Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H1), Malta, May 1. 2009.

[205] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B39), Caltanissetta, Sicily, May 8, 2009.

[206] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, H21), Lister Barracks, Malta, May 4, 2009.

[207] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, R/L1), Rome, October 23, 2008.

[208]“Libya: Inside the Immigrants’ Detention Center of Misrata,” Fortress Europe, November 20, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2009).

[209] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, H25), Agrigento, Sicily, May 6, 2009.

[210] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B10), New Ta’Kandja detention center, Malta, May 2, 2009.

[211] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H32), Malta, May 4, 2009.

[212] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B68), Rome, May 20, 2009.

[213] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, B/H32), Malta, May 4, 2009.

[214] Human Rights Watch interview (name changed, H92), Ganfuda, August 11, 2009.

[215] Ibid.

[216] “Libya Denies Somali Prisoners Killed in Jailbreak,” VOA News, August 11, 2009.

[217]  “Libya: Prison Guards Kill More Than 20 Somalis, Injure 50 Others,” Mareeg, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009).