A Somali man set himself on fire in a Libyan detention center on Wednesday, according to fellow detainees and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The man, who is in his late 20s, reportedly doused himself in petrol from a generator in the center and lit it, after telling friends he had lost hope of being relocated to a safe country.
Sources told The Irish Times the man carried out the action after being told he had little chance of evacuation by visiting officials from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR said it was trying to verify this.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the detainee had set himself on fire as an “act of protest”.
“He was admitted into the hospital yesterday in Tripoli in the burn center for intensive medical care. Our medical team visited him and informed the management that they are willing to support if it is needed,” he said.
However, a fellow detainee said he believed the Somali man had died. “All refugees have [a] very bad feeling. Today [we’re] not eating at all because so many people have died.” This would be the eighth death in Triq al Sikka centre this year, according to the detainee.
Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants have been returned to Libya since February 2017, when the country’s UN-backed government entered into a deal with Italy to prevent migration to Europe. Italian politicians have called the deal a success, because it has reduced the number of people arriving on their shores.
Rife with abuse
However, for the men, women and children returned to Libya, the situation is bleak. More than a dozen detainees across Tripoli contacted by phone have described detention centres rife with abuse, where they’re fed once a day at most, forced to work, and sometimes beaten or raped. Overcrowding has led to the spread of infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
Those detained include pregnant women and children of all ages.
Sources in Zintan, a detention center 180km southwest of Tripoli, said that four detainees have died there within the past month. They say the poor conditions, including a lack of sanitation, have caused or contributed to the deaths.
In Tripoli, detainees in two centers said their families at home are being forced to send money for them to buy food because managers in the Libyan department for combating illegal immigration (DCIM)-run centers say there is no other way for them to eat.
Cross the Mediterranean
Many detainees’ families have already paid ransoms of more than $2,000 to smugglers who held them prisoner, regularly torturing them, before allowing them to attempt to cross the Mediterranean.
One man said the manager in his center withholds food depending on his mood and whims. “If the leader of the detention center gets happy by something in his own personal situation he tries to serve us food, if [he] not get happy he tries to stop it.”
In September, the UNHCR updated its policy to say Libya is no longer a safe country to return people to. The organization is currently registering detainees from countries including Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia, who cannot return home or are unwilling to because of conflict or fear of persecution. Many are hoping for evacuation from Libya, but the number of resettlement places currently offered by other countries is very limited.