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UN Reports Migrants and Refugees in Libya Face Horrific Abuse

FILE - Migrants in a truck arrive at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, Oct. 12, 2017.
FILE - Migrants in a truck arrive at a detention center in Gharyan, Libya, Oct. 12, 2017.

A U.N. report documents a litany of violations and abuses committed against migrants and refugees in Libya.

The U.N. human rights office says state officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers have been known to subject the migrants and refugees to "unimaginable horrors." These include unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, gang rape, slavery, forced labor and extortion.

U.N. monitors visited 11 official, government-run detention centers where thousands of migrants and refugees are being held. They documented cases of torture, beatings, and forced labor. They said the inmates were starved and women were raped by their guards.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville tells VOA that conditions for people held by armed groups and criminal gangs in unofficial detention centers are even worse.

"They sort of specialize in selling people, basically," Colville said. "They will sell migrants either for labor, for sort of forced labor or slavery, or women for sex and they will pass them from gang to gang and so on. And then shoot people, kill people, torture people, leave them to starve to death. Just horrendous, horrendous stuff; just treating them like cheap commodities that can be thrown away if you cannot sell them."

The 61-page report published jointly by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya and the U.N. Human Rights Office covers a 20-month period up to August. It is based on 1,300 interviews conducted by U.N. human rights staff in Libya, as well as from migrants who have returned to Nigeria or have reached Italy.

U.N. officials say the climate of lawlessness in Libya provides fertile ground for atrocities and illicit activities to thrive. It says widespread impunity in the country makes migrants and refugees vulnerable for exploitation and extortion by human traffickers and criminal smuggling networks.