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Italy arrests three people for torturing migrants

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Italian police have arrested three people on Monday for kidnapping, torture and trafficking of migrants wishing to travel from Libya to Europe.

Migrants described abuses including systematic rape of women and the killing of some refugees.

A 27-year-old Guinean man and two Egyptians aged 24 and 26 were arrested and taken to a detention center in Messina, Sicily, after police collected testimonies against them from other migrants.

The detainees crossed the Mediterranean themselves and arrived in Lampedusa before being transferred to Sicily.

Witnesses said the three men were running a detention center at a former military base in Zawiya, Libya, where all those wishing to move to Europe were detained until they paid a ransom.

Police said those questioned confirmed that they had been “beaten with sticks, butts of rifles, rubber tubes, skin or electric shocks” and even saw prisoners die.

They said they were denied water and medical attention for the wounds or illnesses they had suffered in the camp.

Anyone who could not pay the ransom was handed over to other smugglers for “sexual exploitation or work” or was killed.

The testimonies were collected from immigrants distributed at reception centers across Sicily and on the island of Lampedusa.

“All the women we were with have been systematically and repeatedly raped,” a witness said.

“They gave us sea water to drink and sometimes poor quality bread to eat. The men were beaten to force relatives to pay money to release us.”

“I saw them shooting at migrants who tried to escape.”

– “Shoot a Nigerian leg to take him a piece of bread” –

“He was whipped with electric wires. Sometimes he was beaten on the head,” another said.

One survivor described how he was “falling to the ground and losing consciousness due to electric shock,” adding that “he witnessed the death of a number of people as a result of electric shock.”

Migrants died of starvation, according to another witness who confirmed that a prisoner “shot a Nigerian leg to take a piece of bread.”

The chaos that followed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011 made Libya a route for East African, Sahelian and Middle Eastern migrants wishing to move to Europe.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), published in July, at least 5,200 people are currently held in official detention centers in Libya, often in dire conditions.

There are no figures for the number of people held in illegal detention centers run by smugglers who torture them to force their families to pay ransoms.

Italy’s tough policy on North African migrants and the European Union’s cooperation with the Libyan coastguard have led to the arrest of some migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to Libya.

On Sunday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for greater “international solidarity” to allow the distribution of refugees stranded in Libya, who face particularly difficult conditions, especially in detention centers.

“We continue to call on the international community to show generosity to give greater opportunities for the distribution of refugees,” Jean-Paul Cavalieri, head of the UN mission in Libya, told AFP in Tripoli.

Of the 50,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Libya, only 4,600 have been distributed to countries other than Libya and their countries of origin since November 2017, some 3,000 of whom have been transferred to a transit center in Niger.

More than 800 others were transferred directly to Italy, 456 to Romania and 371 to other countries, according to UNHCR figures.

Cavalieri praised last week’s agreement between Rwanda to temporarily receive African refugees and asylum seekers stranded in Libya.

He announced that the agreement would allow “the evacuation of threatened refugees in detention centers to seek refuge in Rwanda and from there to find other potential countries to move to,” adding that the reception center in Rwanda is unable to accommodate more than 500 people.

“The Rwandan option is an additional alternative that allows safe solutions for refugees facing complex situations or even risks,” he said.

“It is proof of the international community’s solidarity with Libya, which is facing this armed conflict.”

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