The continuing nightmare of migrants in Libya

For several years, NGOs and journalists have desperately alerted courts and governments on the crimes committed against migrants in Libya. Thousands of them are trapped in detention centers, subject to extortion, starvation, rape, torture, medical neglect and other inhumane treatments. The International Criminal Court has been seized of the Libya situation for 11 years. Its successive prosecutors have received regular files from NGOs with evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against this extremely vulnerable population. They have repeatedly indicated that the crime of human trafficking was among their prosecution priorities. Irish journalist and photographer Sally Hayden and Libyan human rights defender Marwa Mohamed are the guests of our partners at Asymmetrical Haircuts to once more raise consciousness about the plight of migrants in Libya.

Many people wearing life jackets wait untel the are rescued from a rubber boat
Migrants and refugees on a rubber boat wait to be evacuated during a rescue operation by the crew of the Topaz Responder, a rescue ship run by Maltese NGO "Moas" and the Italian Red Cross, on November 5, 2016 off the coast of Libya. © Andreas Solaro / AFP
1 min 45Approximate reading time

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People are trafficked from one side of the African continent to the other. Refugee detention centres are in the hands of militia groups. Migrants attempt to cross by sea. The boats are intercepted and migrants sent back. And the cycle starts over again. The situation of refugees and migrants in Libya is complex and many accuse the European Union of turning a blind eye to the abuses its border policies enable. 

We asked Marwa Mohamed, Head of Advocacy of Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) and host of the Libya Matters Podcast, and Sally Hayden, Africa Correspondent at the Irish Times and author of “My Fourth Time, We Drowned”, to unpack this multifaceted problem. Sally talks about the first time she was contacted by refugees trapped in Libya, and the starvation, medical neglect and violence in the detention centres that she was able to document. She also discusses the monetisation of refugees by Libyan actors and the effect of strict European Union border policies.

A communication sent to the International Criminal Court in November 2021 by European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, and LFJL outlined their analysis of how the torture and other human rights abuses may amount to crimes against humanity. Last April the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, told the United Nation Security Council about his current approaches. Marwa runs through the evidence of crimes including arbitrary detention, torture, murder, persecution, sexual violence and enslavement. She also talks about the European complicity with the system and urges the ICC to not leave these crimes to domestic courts but to address them as crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Asymmetrical Haircuts podcastASYMMETRICAL HAIRCUTS

This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between and Asymmetrical Haircuts, a podcast on international justice produced from The Hague by journalists Janet Anderson and Stephanie van den Berg, who retain full control and independence over the contents of the podcast.