Libya detention: an Eritrean refugee’s experience

This information comes directly from an Eritrean refugee, who is trapped in Libya. He feels abandoned by UNHCR, threatened by Islamic extremists, with many inmates suffering from diseases, including tuberculosis. The detainees fear they will be sold as slaves by the detention centre guards.

The identity of the refugee has been withheld, to prevent further danger to him.


–          For six months, the refugee was stuck in prison in Eritrea, as a national service conscript. The refugee left Eritrea in 2010. From 2010-2016, he stayed in Sudan.

–          After Sudan, he went from Egypt to Libya

–          The refugee paid a total of 12000 dollars in ransoms and smuggling sums. 3500 of this was paid to ISIS in Libya. Eritreans are working with the Libyan and Sudanese smugglers and traffickers, he says.

–          The refugee was registered in the Gharyan detention centre in Libya in October 2017, together with 165 other Eritreans. He was moved to Tariq al Matar detention centre in May 2018.

–          In Tariq al Matar, the police guards shot at the refugees, resulting in injuries to 2 Eritrean refugees.

–          Fighting between two militias led to further injury of four Eritrean people by stray bullets. The injured were taken away and the others never heard what became of them.

–          As the fighting got heavier at the Gharyan detention centre on 15 May 2018, with the use of tanks and mortars, the refugees managed to escape. The people who fled included mainly Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians – women, children and injured among them. The refugee knows of five people that died in the fighting, and 15 that were injured. Finally, they were gathered and evacuated to Zintan detention centre, away from Tripoli.

–          The situation in Zintan was equally bad – the refugees invited the UNHCR to have a look inside, but they only agreed to meet the English translators outside the centre.  The women and men sleep about 200 metres apart in Zintan.

–          ISIS is in close proximity of the centre. The refugees are scared and many are suffering from Tuberculosis.

–          The refugee has communicated sensitive information during his stay in Libya and he is afraid that there will be consequences if anyone finds out – he is afraid that he might be killed. Meanwhile, some people are called by the UNHCR for interviews to assess relocation, but only very few.

–          Disease is rampant in the detention centres. The refugee reports that many people have died. In half a year, seventeen have passed away from Tuberculosis. They receive no medical care, and if doctors come, they have no experience to deal with the illness. Some of the sick are evacuated to other detention centres.

–          Another person committed suicide.

–          Another fear that they have is being sold to traffickers by the staff of the detention centres.

–          Meanwhile, the refugees are being pressured by the IOM to ‘return to their home country’ as they have been warned that there might be war in Libya.

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