Christian migrants in Libya hoping to reach Europe have detailed the persecution they have faced at the hands of Islamic State including starvation, beatings, sexual slavery and forced conversion to Islam.
A report by Amnesty International dealing with the widespread abuse faced by migrants and refugees in Libya has uncovered the grievous conditions experienced by Christians at the hands of IS (Isis/Daesh) while travelling through the North African state.
Amal, a 21-year-old Eritrean woman, described how she was raped by different men and was finally assigned as a “wife” to one IS fighter who also raped her after she was kidnapped near Benghazi in July 2015.
The young woman described how she and a group of 71 people she was travelling with were deprived of food for up to three days at a time over a period of months.
“They took [the Christians] to Tripoli and kept us underground – we didn’t see the sun for nine months. We were 11 women from Eritrea,” she said. “Sometimes we didn’t eat for three days. Other times they would give us one meal a day, half a piece of bread.”
Amal also described how the captives were pressured into converting into Islam under threat of death and were beaten with hoses or sticks. “Sometimes they would frighten us with their guns, or threaten to slaughter us with their knives,” she explained. After women agreed to convert the sexual violence and rape would begin.
In another case, in 2015 Adam, 28, a man from Ethiopia living in Benghazi with his wife, was abducted by IS simply because he was a Christian.
“They kept me in a prison for one and half months. Then one of them felt sorry for me after I told him I have a family and he helped me memorize the Quran so they would let me go… They killed many people,” he explained. Adam said he was was eventually able to escape after seven months in captivity.
According to the International Organisation for Immigration (IOM), most foreign nationals residing in Libya originate from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana and Sudan. The majority of those transiting through the country and then crossing to Italy by boat are from Eritrea, Nigeria, Gambia, Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire. The main transit point for people from West Africa entering Libya is the south-western city of Sabha.
Those entering via Sudan from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia come through Kufra, and then travel on to Ajdabiya in the north eastern part of the country. Most boats heading to Europe depart from north-western Libya. Before departure, foreign nationals are held in houses and farms until more people are gathered for the journey.