On 11 September 2018, more than a hundred people have reportedly died after a shipwreck off the Libyan coast one week before. I was on the ground in Libya with MSF teams and I have met a group of 276 people, among them survivors of the shipwreck, who were brought from the sea to the port city of Khoms (120 km east of Tripoli) by the Libyan coast guard on Sunday 2 September. MSF has been providing urgent medical assistance following disembarkation.

“We left Libya in a rubber dinghy in the night. We were rescued by the Libyan coast guard. We called the Italian authorities and they sent the Libyans to bring us back. While we were sailing we had a problem with our dingy, it was very hot and the dinghy was deflating. Also at one point the engine stopped. On the boat there were a lot of children and pregnant women. Families. We struggled to survive. We were in the water next to dead bodies. Europe should know what we are going through: we cannot stay in Libya. It’s very dangerous for us. “

Upon disembarkation, the group was transferred to a detention centre under the control of the Libyan authorities. It is common for people returned to Libya from unseaworthy boats to be sent back into a harmful system of arbitrary detention. Between January and August 2018, the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard had returned 13,185 refugees and migrants to Libya.

“On my left leg, I have a gun shot. My friends helped me to collect money as I wanted to go to Europe to find treatment for my leg. They told me its 10.000 Libyan dinar. I don’t have that money. This is my story, but there are many different stories here. We are not criminals, we are not thieves. We are struggling to survive. I feel very sad and disappointed. It’s painful. I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know my left and my right any more. I don’t know where I will go tomorrow. We need help, and we have been locked up as prisoners. I don’t know why they keep sending people back to Libya. We are running away from here. I am not asking the Italian government to accept all of us to their country, but don’t send us back to Libya.”

Many of the survivors are mourning the loss of their relatives. On top of the dangers faced during the journey through Libya, they have experienced another very traumatic situation at sea. Instead of receiving the support they need, refugees and migrants are arrested and detained in deplorable living conditions, without basic safeguards or legal recourse. 

Refugees and migrants detained in the detention centre get rice or pasta for lunch and dinner. For breakfast people receive bread with some cheese. Food is prepared in-house and is served in large metal bowls to be shared by five to 10 people.

Some publications

After Migrants Drowned at Sea, Debate Over Who Should Have Saved Them :: September 2018, NYTIMES

Los naufragios invisibles del Mediterráneo :: September 2018, El mundo

Libia: un altro naufragio, più di 100 morti. Le testimonianze :: September 2018, Vita