Libyan Detention Centers in A State of Chaos

Libyan detention centers, have come under intense media scrutiny over recent years with allegations of detained migrants being systematically abused and even tortured in some cases.

In its latest report, ”Migration Trends Across: the Mediterranean: Connecting the Dots, Altai Consulting provides greater insight into the inner-wokings of Libya’s 18 operational detention centers which are partly run by the  Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) and partly by militias which have come to characterise the landscape of post-revolution Libya.


Source: Altai Consulting Chart Provided by:

The DCIM officially manages 18 detention centres in Libya (see map above), but only 15 currently hold migrants. The largest detention centers are Al Karareem in Misrata and Al Zawiya, both can hold more than 1,000 migrants.

However, several testimonies collected from migrants by Altai Consulting suggest a number of detention centres are informally run by militias which in turn use them “as a market for smuggling services”.

Overall, the system is under extreme pressure due to both the huge influx of migrants, and the ongoing civil war in Libya, a war that has placed strained on essential supplies.

Moreover, the conflict has virtually locked migrants inside the country, at least from the Southern border. Once they are in, they are unable to go back where they came from.

”I was not safe in Libya. I needed to leave but I felt that if I tried to go back home by travelling back to the souther borders I would suffer again. So I decided to go to Europe instead” according to a 26 year old Gambian man in Italy featured in the report.

Conditions in detention centres are poor. They are generaly over-crowded, unclean and have inadequate supplies for women and children. In addition, migrants are held for indefinite periods.

But perhaps the most significant piece of information in the report is the claim that migrants often have to buy their way out of detention through use of smuggler services.

The report details a number of shady alternatives for migrants to get out of detention. In the militia-run centres, smugglers are often allowed in to pitch their services. In other cases, migrants are virtually pushed to take the boat, without having expressed an interest.

But the document also reports on the alleged “sale” or “lending” of migrants to people needing manual labour. When this happens, the payment for this period of veritable forced labour is a ticket to Europe on a smuggler’s boat.

“I did not decide to come to Europe, I was put on a boat without having asked. Libyans presumed I wanted to go and as they did not pay me for one of my jobs, they put me on a boat instead to compensate me for my work.” a 20-year-old Ivorian man is reported saying.

The explanations why migrants are being placed on boats to Europe without giving consent are not obvious, besides the profit-motive. However, there is little evidence to indicate that DCIM-run centres involved in this sort of activity.

The report also suggests that Libyans’ fears over the spread of the Ebola virus could play a part in the pushing of some sub-Saharan migrants, particularly West Africans, on boats to Europe.

Some of the centres have been inaccessible, even to international agencies such as UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Altai Consulting believes Sub-Saharans are under particular threat, being harassed and are especially vulnerable in these centres.