Desperate refugee teenager found hanged in detention center in Libya | Migration News

WARNING: The following story contains images that may upset some readers.

The photo of the body of a 19-year-old boy hanging lifeless from the ceiling in one of the dormitory corridors of the Ain Zara detention center, south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, is the latest evidence of the human cost of ownership of the country. centers.

Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, a refugee from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, reportedly committed suicide on June 5 after being released and re-apprehended within two weeks.

Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya languish in the centres, trapped in endless cycles of detention and abuse with dire repercussions on their mental health and safety.

Asylum seekers who spoke to Al Jazeera from inside Ain Zara said Abdel Aziz’s body had been left hanging for hours in the room where he lived with hundreds of others.

Mustafa, another Sudanese asylum seeker who asked for his name to be changed to protect his identity, told Al Jazeera the image of Abdel Aziz’s body was secretly taken by inmates at the centre. Libyan authorities later confiscated the phones to prevent the image from spreading, and dozens were not returned.

Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, 19, reportedly hanged himself at Ain Zara detention center near the Libyan capital Tripoli. [Al Jazeera via sources]

Mustafa said those trapped in the detention center were growing increasingly desperate as they saw little or no hope for the future.

“We have been here for five months,” he said. “Mohamed had had enough until he reached this level and he [killed himself].”

Released, then detained again

Abdel Aziz and Mustafa were arrested in an overnight raid while peacefully demonstrating for resettlement, protection and evacuation from Libya outside the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on January 10.

More than 600 people were violently arrested and detained that day. The protests followed a major crackdown in the western town of Gargaresh, a hub for asylum seekers from African countries, which displaced thousands and resulted in the detention of at least 5,000 people.

Abdel Aziz was released on May 23 as part of a group of 99 asylum seekers, including 46 children, evacuated from Ain Zara with UNHCR support.

He probably spent days on the streets before being apprehended again by the Libyan authorities and brought back to the centre, where he is believed to have committed suicide shortly afterwards.

Mohammad Mahmoud Abdel Aziz.
Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Aziz [Al Jazeera via sources]

“He received 500 dinars ($104) but it wasn’t enough to rent a room,” Mustafa said. “UNHCR makes you sign a paper saying they can’t help you find accommodation.”

UNHCR told Al Jazeera in a written statement that it was “saddened by the tragic death of the young asylum seeker”. He did not confirm the amount of aid given but said the teenager had ‘received cash aid in installments through our city programmes’.

The agency provided a copy of the consent to transfer form, which states: “UNHCR does NOT provide accommodation NOR can it arrange accommodation.”

As of 22 May, UNHCR estimates that there are 2,772 people held in detention centers across Libya.

The agency said it does not keep track of the number of people re-apprehended after being released with its support.

Libyan authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Small oversight

Hussein Baumi, Libya and Egypt campaigner at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera that detention centers in Libya operate with increasingly sparse oversight from international organizations, including UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Libyan authorities have closed centers run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) that were plagued with abuse, but similar patterns of abuses have been replicated in recently opened or reopened centers that are run by militias out of sight.

Amnesty has documented torture, cruel and inhuman conditions of detention, extortion and forced labour, as well as invasive, humiliating and violent strip searches inside detention centres.

Even when a person is released, freedom is not guaranteed for long.

“Many people who are released are recaptured, sometimes by the same militias,” Baumi said, adding that detention is often lucrative for armed groups demanding ransom. “It is not a safe space for migrants and asylum seekers.”

For those hoping to pass through Libya to get to Europe, this is often not an option.

The European Union has spent more than 57.2 million euros ($64.8 million) in Libya, with the stated aim of ‘sav[ing] the lives of those who make dangerous journeys by sea or land,” according to a fact sheet published by the European Commission in June 2021.

It has trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept refugee and migrant boats hoping to reach Europe and bring them back to Libyan shores. Human rights watchdogs have long denounced the alleged conduct of the Coast Guard, including the use of firearms and deliberate damage to boats.

So far in 2022, at least 8,860 asylum seekers, refugees and migrants have been reported as intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and other naval authorities.

“People take boats knowing they might die,” Baumi said.

“It’s the only way for them to escape mistreatment in Libya.”

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, these organizations may be able to help.

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