African News Agency, IOL News, July 30, 2020
Thousands of refugees and migrants are dying and many others are suffering extreme human rights abuses on irregular journeys between West and East Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean coast.
A report released on Wednesday by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Refugee Agency and the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) details how most people taking these routes suffer or witness unspeakable brutality and inhumanity at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, militias and, in some cases, state officials.
According to the report, collecting accurate data on deaths in the context of irregular mixed population flows controlled by human smugglers and traffickers is extremely difficult as many take place in the shadows and away from the view of authorities and their formal systems for managing data and statistics.
The data retrieved suggests that a minimum of 1,750 people died on these journeys in 2018 and 2019.
According to Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the harrowing abuses experienced by refugees and migrants along these overland routes have remained largely invisible for too long.
“This report documents killings and widespread violence of the most brutal nature, perpetrated against desperate people fleeing war, violence and persecution,” added Grandi.
According to the data, around 28% of deaths reported in 2018 and 2019 happened as people attempted to cross the Sahara.
Other hot spots for fatalities included Sabha, Kufra and Qatrun in southern Libya, the smuggling hub of Bani Walid south-east of Tripoli, Libya, and several places along the West African section of the route, including Bamako, Mali, and Agadez, Niger.
While most reports and data are still coming in for 2020, at least 70 refugees and migrants are known to have died in 2020 already, including at least 30 people who were killed at the hands of traffickers in Mizdah, Libya, in late May, says the UN Refugee Agency.
The reports also reveal that some 31% of respondents interviewed by MMC who witnessed or survived sexual violence in 2018 or 2019 did so in more than one location.
Smugglers were the primary perpetrators of sexual violence in North and East Africa, accounting for 60% and 90% of the reports from the respective routes.
However, in West Africa, the primary perpetrators were security forces or military and police officials, accounting for a quarter of reported abuses.
Many who attempt the sea crossing to Europe are intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libyan shores. More than 6,200 refugees and migrants have so far been disembarked in Libya in 2020, said the report.