An 18-year-old asylum seeker from Ethiopia has begun preparations to sue the U.K. government for part-funding detention centres in Libya, where he claims to have been tortured, manhandled and engaged in forced labour.
The Ethiopia teenager’s legal action, which is against the government’s Department for International Development (DfID) for its contribution to funding these centres, is believed to be the first of its kind, according to the The Guardian.
The teenager is currently living in London and is waiting for the Home Office to determine his asylum claim. He argues that it is unlawful for authorities to fund these detention centres and he is further demanding compensation for the suffering he went through there.
In February 2017, Libyan authorities came under fire, after disturbing footage emerged showing the inhumane treatment of trapped African refugees by Libyan coastguards.
The footage was part of a new documentary, entitled, “Ross Kemp: Libya’s Migrant Hell,” which sought to expose the plight of thousands of asylum seekers held in Libyan detention camps
These refugees, with the majority coming from sub-Saharan Africa, are usually detained, tortured, raped, and sold like slaves into manual labour and prostitution, reports the Independent.
While some of these detention camps are run by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), many more are controlled by Libyan militia and armed groups, whose main interest is to make money from desperate migrants by selling them as slaves or forcing them into prostitution.
Kemp, the producer of the film, then indicated that refugees were traded like commodities in various detention camps along the Libyan coast.
He further revealed how Libyan coastguards took great pleasure in beating refugees and then leaving them in the scorching sun for hours without food and water.
They then rounded them up and locked them in overcrowded detention camps, where they were sold to people smugglers who again attempted to traffic them to Europe through the Mediterranean.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International recently also accused European governments of complicity in the abuse and torture of migrants and refugees by Libyan immigration officials.
In a report released in December 2017, the London-based NGO said Europe has actively and knowingly supported the system of abuse set up by the Libyan authorities to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.
“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses,” said Amnesty International’s Europe Director John Dalhuisen.
He added that the migrants are trapped at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers who often work together for financial gain while refugees are subjected to systematic abuse.
The report followed a worldwide outrage over a video aired by CNN showing migrants being sold in Libya. Demonstrations were held in some African countries, Europe and the United States to elicit a swift action by world leaders.
The African Union said weeks later that a joint task force with the help of the United Nations and the European Union “plans to repatriate within the next 6 weeks, 20,000 migrants in identified government-controlled detention centres, who wish to leave Libya.”
The Libyan government said it will investigate the migrant slave auctions after pressure to find the perpetrators – believed to include government officials.
On the part of the Ethiopian teenager, he fled persecution in Ethiopia due to his father’s political leanings and made the arduous journey through Libya and across the Mediterranean. He was later detained in detention centres in Libya, where he described his condition as a “living hell.”
“An expert medical report conducted in London identified 31 different lesions, including 10 on his face, which the doctor who examined him found provided ‘significant corroboration’ of his account of repeated ill-treatment,” The Guardian reported.
Last year, the UK government spent £10m (almost $13m) in Libya on scores of projects, including the detention centres. DfID had said that its funding is to improve appalling conditions in the camp, but James Elliott of Wilsons Solicitors, one of the lawyers of the teenager, said: “…We are bringing this legal challenge because it is vital that UK taxpayers’ money is not used to allow places where men, women and children are subjected to torture, rape and slavery to continue to exist.”
The boy’s legal team is further calling on DfID to “facilitate the relocation of the detention centres to the UK or other safe countries so that asylum claims can be safely processed.”
In terms of the UK funding in Libya, the lawyers have asked the DfID to release the funding agreements between it and the Libyan government, including any internal documents that are related to incidents in the detention centres.