31 October 2007

Libya: interview with a refugee imprisoned at Az Zawiyah

ROME, 31 October 2007 - "It's been months since we've seen sunlight...We were brought outside, stripped naked and then beaten." Thus begins the interview with one of the 103 Eritreans imprisoned in the detention centre of Az Zawiyah, 50 km west of Tripoli, in an exclusive document - produced by Fortress Europe, Agenzia Habeshia and Radio Parole - that documents the inhumane conditions in which most of those 500 immigrants live in the Libyan camp. Their bodies are covered with wounds, and they are without any medical cure, these men who have left their homes and villages in search of work. Further, they were not arrested in the act of migrating, some were taken in their homes, others where they were working and others while on the street, in one of the standard round-ups done by the police. More than 53,000 migrants and refugees who have been arrested and held in Libya since 2006 are forced to live in these brutal conditions. Their crime? To be suspected candidates for illegal immigration towards Europe, passing through the Sicilian Channel.

In the interview, one of the de tainees talks of the sadistic treatment that they receive from the guards. On at least two occasions, the males were stripped and beaten, while the women were forced to watch. On every possible occasion, for the multiple roll calls of the day, for instance, they are beaten without cause. Two men were beaten on the soles of their feet, and they have not since been able to walk. Almost all the detainees have serious contagious illnesses of the skin, due to the hygienic conditions. They have no change of clothes, nor are they allowed to wash. At least ten are in a very serious state, since their wounds, which constantly itch, have been scratched to a point where the lesions on the skin are severe. There is no medical cure for them or for anyone.

The only respite is the moral support that other detainees can give to those imprisoned with them, attempting in some way to wash their clothing and to assure them that they will live through this, and that the nightmare w ill end.

The interviewee however insists that the guards do not harm the women, and their situation is not as extreme. He also says that men as well as women have access to water.

The most difficult condition that all are faced with is the lack of any sort of cover during the cold hours of the night. There are no sheets, blankets or covers, and this is a cause of great physical suffering.

When the interviewer asks how they ended up being imprisoned, the answer was quite surprising. None of them were arrested in the act of migrating. They were all arrested during one of the common "round-ups" that the Libyan police make, arresting people off the street, in their homes, in the places they are working. They were basically accused of being illegal immigrants, and for this, they were to be detained and subjected to such conditions.

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