UN report on violence against refugees: fatal journey through Africa


Refugees and migrants suffer severe violence on their trip to the Mediterranean coast, and many die. This emerges from a new report.

Sahara risk: more refugees and migrants are killed here than in the Mediterranean Photo: ap

BERLIN taz | Thousands of refugees and migrants die or suffer serious human rights violations on their journey to the African Mediterranean coast. This is reported by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Center (MMC) research center of the Danish Refugee Council.

People in the region would experience “unspeakable brutality and inhumanity” through smugglers, militias and security forces, according to the report Message “On this journey, no one cares if you live or die” (“On this trip nobody cares whether you live or die”).

Refugees report arbitrary killings, torture, forced labor and beatings, burning with hot oil, molten plastic or heated metal objects, as well as electric shocks and “bondage in agonizing positions”. “For too long, the horrific ill-treatment suffered by refugees and migrants on the land route has remained largely invisible,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. The report documents “the most brutal killings and widespread violence against desperate people who have fled war, violence and persecution.”

Since no country in the region is willing or able to record the violence, it is not possible to give precise information about the number of actual victims. The deeds “take place in secret, under the radar of the authorities and official statistics,” the report said. However, using counts and reports from contact points along key migration routes, the UN estimates that at least 1,750 people have been killed in the region in the past two years. This would make this route “one of the deadliest routes in the world for refugees and migrants”. The drowned people in the Mediterranean would have to be added – that was around 4,180 in 2018 and 2019.

More people die in the desert than in the Mediterranean

Women and girls, but also men and boys, are at high risk of rape and sexual violence. In North and East Africa, smugglers in particular are perpetrators, in West Africa it is primarily security forces, soldiers and police officers. Many people reported that they were forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation by traffickers.

About 28 percent of the deaths from 2018 and 2019 are due to crossing the Sahara. Places where there were many victims were the Libyan cities of Sabha, Kufra and al-Qatrun in southern Libya, the smuggling center Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli, and several cities along the West African section of the route, including Bamako in Mali and Agadez in Niger. Only in May 2019 had smugglers murdered around 30 kidnapped migrants near the Lybian city of Mizda. It is said to have been an act of revenge.

This development had emerged in recent years. As early as 2016, the IOM estimated that a similar number of people could die in the desert as in the Mediterranean. At that time, the Niger government had interrupted the legal route through the desert from the city of Agadez to Sabha in Libya.

The EU subsequently increased development aid to the State of Niger. Those who want to cross Niger towards Libya can no longer do so in guarded, legal convoys. Instead, tugs offer a high-risk passage, far from roads, settlements, water points and checkpoints.

Libyan police shoot several Sudanese

In 2019, the Libyan UNHCR refugee agency, Vincent Cochetel, said world, he assumes “that at least twice as many people die on the way to the Mediterranean as in the Mediterranean itself”. But the number could also “be much higher. Nobody can say for sure, but it’s a tragedy. “

Human rights groups like the initiative Alarm-Phone Sahara had repeatedly criticized the government of Algeria in this connection. This has been pushing refugees and migrants from West Africa back across the border to Niger for years. Sometimes people had to walk from the border line in the middle of the Sahara to the next settlement, and people died again and again.

Just as the UN released its report on Tuesday, the Libyan police shot three Sudanese in front of UN officials and injured two others. The men were on a boat to Europe with 70 other refugees and migrants when the Libyan coast guard took them up. The people were brought to the port city of al Khums.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) officials reported that local authorities started shooting when migrants attempted to flee the landing site. Two migrants died on the scene. International Rescue Committee officials brought a third party to the hospital, and he died on the way.

“The suffering of migrants in Libya is unacceptable,” said IOM mission leader in Libya, Federico Soda. “The use of excessive violence again leads to senseless loss of life.” In Libya, there is no protection for people and nothing is being done to change this.

According to the UN census, the coast guard has had 6,097 refugees and migrants at sea this year stopped and retrieved. Both the IOM and the UN refugee agency UNHCR have stated that Libya should not be classified as a safe haven for migrants and that they should not disembark there. They want an alternative arrangement to take people who have been rescued or intercepted at sea to safe havens.


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