Condemning The Extortion and Hostage Crises of African Migrants in Libya

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CDS Africa

Administrator . Updated July 1, 2024

The United Nation has issued warnings about the recent spike in the number of migrants being sent from Tunisia to Libya, pointing to a worrying pattern of increasing cases of extortion and cruelty inflicted at migrants on route to Europe.

As Tunisia tightens its border policy, thousands of African migrants are forcibly deported to Libya, where they endure horrific human rights violations from traffickers and militias. This alarming situation underscores the urgent need for international intervention and a reassessment of migration policies to protect the dignity and safety of migrants caught in this humanitarian crisis.

African migrants mostly from Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia fleeing economic hardship, political instability, and conflict in their home countries undertake perilous journeys through Tunisia to Europe only to become entangled in a web of extortion and brutality in Libya. Their dreams of safety and greater possibilities are rapidly crushed as they get imprisoned in Libya, a country dealing with internal instability. After the Libyan War, the country has been transformed into a haven for over eight rebel factions, embroiled in various conflicts and illegal activities.

Due to the vulnerability of these migrants, Libya has become a known hub for militias and people traffickers. There have been reports of extortion for huge quantities of money, physical and psychological abuse, and horrendous conditions in which migrants are being held. These migrants' families frequently face financial devastation after being forced to pay hefty ransoms in order to obtain the release of their loved ones. Inability to pay these ransoms often result in extended incarceration, forced labor or even worse, being a victim of organ trafficking or being sold into slavery.


Human Right Violations

The way migrants are treated while enroute to Europe, particularly in Libya, constitutes a blatant violation of International Human Rights standards. The United Nations and other human rights organizations have documented several incidences of torture, sexual abuse, and appalling living conditions in Libyan detention camps. The problem is aggravated by the absence of a functional government and a rule of law after the War, which allows traffickers and militias to operate freely.

International treaties and legislation, such as the Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, require the protection and proper treatment of people escaping persecution and war. In flagrant violation of these ideals is Libya's institutionalized mistreatment and exploitation of African migrants.


The Role of Tunisia

While Tunisia is a major transit point for migrants, it is not immune to the crisis's complications. Migrants encounter numerous challenges in Tunisia, including limited access to resources and protection.

However, it is critical that the Tunisian government and civic society increase their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and protect the rights of migrants transiting through their territory. According to a classified United Nations Human Rights paper obtained by Reuters, border guards in Tunisia have arrested migrants and turned them over to Libyan authorities, where they have been subjected to homicide, torture, extortion, and forced labor. This practice, which involved hundreds of migrants in the second part of last year, has been verified by images and videos of torture as well as interviews with eighteen former captives.

Tarek Lamloum, expert on Human Rights in Libya has also reported that some 2,000 migrants have been turned over so far this year, with such transfers continuing as late as early May. These deportations from Tunisia to Libya are increasing the already existing volatile human rights violations and extortion cases in Libya.


International Responsibility and a Call to Action

To overcome this situation, the international community needs to take a multifaceted strategy. First and foremost, the mistreatment and extortion of refugees in Libya must be categorically denounced. In order to lessen the reliance on risky routes, governments, especially those in Europe, must acknowledge their role in establishing safe and legal avenues for migrants and asylum seekers.


In addition, strong support must to be given to international aid organizations and non-governmental organizations that are in the forefront of helping and protecting migrants, such the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Diplomatic pressure must be exerted on the Libyan government to dismantle human trafficking networks and hold perpetrators accountable. Additionally, concerted efforts by the African Union and the United Nations are needed to stabilize Libya through peace-building initiatives, creating a thriving environment and establish a democracy where the rights and safety of all including migrants, are upheld and respected.



As a Civic Society Organization recognizing the significance of democracy in Africa's growth and development, CDS Africa is dedicated to safeguarding the vulnerable and promoting freedoms for all.

In addition to addressing the root causes of displacement such as human rights violations, persecution risks, conflict, poor governance, among others, CDS Africa is committed to ensuring the protection of vulnerable populations and advancing the principles of democracy throughout the continent.

We therefore call on the African Union, international stakeholders and organizations to address the dire situation of African refugees facing deportation from Tunisia to Libya.

Further, in line with the objectives of SDG Goal 16, focusing on promoting peace, justice, and robust institutions, it is important to ensure the protection of the fundamental rights of refugees and displaced individuals.

This crisis demands immediate and concerted action. The appalling cycle of extortion, forced labor, torture, and loss of life endured by these vulnerable individuals represents a gross violation of human rights, exposing the inadequacy of current migration laws.

To tackle this humanitarian crisis, global condemnation of refugee mistreatment is essential, alongside the establishment of secure channels for asylum seekers. Governments must fulfill their duty to protect citizens and discourage reliance on illegal migration routes to Europe. The plight of African migrants in Libya is not only a local issue but a global moral issue which requires immediate action.

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CDS Africa

We lead research, advocacy and initiatives to advance democracy and policies to bring about socio-economic development.

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