Some victims were made to drink water from the toilet. – Aghayere •Even in prison in Nigeria, they don’t beat prisoners the way they beat Nigerian people there – Fatima Most times I wonder if Libya is not from earth – Akhanen
The European Union is working with Libyan coastguards to reduce the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. But many of those intercepted end up in detention centres in Libya, where some migrants say they are used as slaves, as the BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty found when she spoke to some Nigerians who have just returned home.
As evening falls on Benin-City, outside the mildewed 1960s block of one of the city’s many hotels, a group of men and women are sitting on a scattering of plastic chairs, under a sign advertising “exotic cocktails” and “groovy nights”. But they are not here for drinks or dancing; they are about to start the hard work of rebuilding their lives. They have come from Libya, where most of them were held in detention centres by the Libyan authorities. And they have returned with accounts of horrifying abuse, including being leased or sold as slaves. ‘They gave us to their friends’ Agen Akhere has a round, baby-face but his small eyes are searing red.
He is sniffling as he talks, and looks like he might well up with tears. He was held for two months in a detention centre in a place called Gharyan. He was registered by the UN’s migration agency (IOM), released from the detention centre and flown home – but his friend did not make it. “It’s because of money,” he said, pleading and craning his neck to get closer to the microphone. “My friend, he’s still there. His name is Samson. He’s still there, in Gharyan.” Gharyan is a prison in the mountains about 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli. And it is a place where all of the migrants we spoke to were taken before they made it home. Again and again they tell the same story, of detainees horrifically abused by prison guards, starved, beaten, raped – and traded as slaves. They come to our caravans [cells], they pick six persons to do their dirty jobs to do farming, brick-laying work,” says Lucky Akhanene. He returned in the same group as Mr Akhere and was held in Gharyan for four months.
“They give us out to their friends. They don’t pay us. It’s just hard labour; if you’re not fast with your job, you get beaten.” Three separate people spoke about being leased out by the prison for day labour like this. Others said they were sold. Jackson Uwumarogie and Felix Efe were arrested “on top of the sea”, off the coast of Libya and taken to Gharyan. They said one night a prison guard came and counted out 20 men, he took them outside and blindfolded them. Mr Uwumarogie overheard the men talking about a price – 1,000 dinars ($735; £550). They were put into a van and taken to a farm.
Story originally posted on Vangauard