Eritreans at risk of forcible return from Libya after detention centre disturbances

Amnesty International has urged the Libyan authorities not to forcibly return around 200 Eritreans held in detention amid allegations that several prisoners were beaten by security officials after an escape attempt last week.The Eritreans, who include refugees and asylum seekers as well as migrants, are currently held at al-Birak, a detention centre in Sabha, where they are reported to be subject to beatings and other ill-treatment.”The Libyan authorities must protect these Eritrean nationals and ensure that they are not forcibly returned to their home country, where they would be at serious risk of torture and other abuse,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.”The Libyan government must also ensure the allegations that these detainees were assaulted and ill-treated by security forces are urgently and independently investigated and that any officials responsible for abusing detainees are held to account.”The Eritreans were moved to al-Birak from Misratah detention centre in northern Libya, following an escape attempt on 29 June by around 15 Eritrean inmates. This occurred after Libyan officials instructed many of the Eritreans detained at Misratah to complete a form giving their personal details, which the detainees feared would then be passed on to the Eritrean government. The morning after the attempted break-out, armed police and soldiers entered the detainees’ cells and beat many of the Eritrean detainees with sticks and whips. At least 14 are reported to have been seriously injured. More than 200 of the Eritrean detainees were then moved in two truck containers to al-Birak, where they are held in overcrowded cells with poor sanitation and shortages of food and water.  Some detainees have reportedly been denied medical treatment for the serious injuries they sustained from beatings. The detainees are feared to be at risk of forcible return to Eritrea, where they could face torture and other ill-treatment as punishment for “betraying” the country or fleeing military service. “Any forcible return of Eritrean nationals would be a violation of Libya’s obligation not to return any individuals to a country where they would be at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment,” said Malcolm Smart.In December 2009 and January this year, the Libyan authorities allowed Eritrean embassy officials to gain access to Eritrean asylum-seekers being detained in Libya, raising fears that this could lead the Eritrean authorities to punish them or their families because they had fled the country and sought asylum abroad. During the visits, Eritreans were told by Libyan security officials that they should complete forms providing information about their departure from Eritrea and the length of time they had been in Libya. Detainees feared the forms were designed to facilitate their forcible return to Eritrea.“The Libyan authorities have an obligation to ensure the safety of individuals seeking protection within Libya’s jurisdiction,” said Malcolm Smart. “A central part of this obligation is to ensure confidentiality for those seeking asylum and not to expose asylum-seekers to risk while in their country. Eritrean embassy officials should not be permitted access to Eritreans seeking asylum in Libya.”The authorities must immediately provide medical treatment for detainees who were injured in the violence in Misratah, and provide adequate living conditions for those held in al-Birak and elsewhere.”Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of Eritrean nationals to Eritrea. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has also issued guidelines to all governments urging them not to forcibly return Eritreans, including rejected asylum-seekers, due to the risks to which they would be exposed as a result of the serious human rights violations that continue to be committed in Eritrea.“These Eritreans and other asylum seekers and refugees should be allowed full access to UNHCR,” said Malcolm Smart.