U.S. Markets closed

Italian police arrest three men accused of torturing and raping migrants in hellish Libya camp

Nick Squires
Migrants in a detention centre in Benghazi in eastern Libya  - REUTERS

Three men who allegedly raped, tortured and murdered migrants in a hellish camp in Libya were arrested by the Italian authorities on Monday.

The men – one from Guinea and two from Egypt – were reportedly recognised by other migrants in a reception centre in Messina in Sicily, having arrived in Italy on a migrant boat at the end of June.

The three, aged between 24 and 27, have been charged with several counts of murder and sexual violence and, for the first time under Italian law, the newly-introduced charge of torture.

They are accused of conducting a reign of terror in a detention centre in Zawiyah on the Libyan coast, where migrants were tortured to put pressure on their families back home to send more money to the traffickers, and women were routinely raped.

Hundreds of migrants and refugees were held in the centre, a former military base, from where they hoped to reach Italy or Malta by boat.

They were “subjected to systematic atrocities, including repeated and constant physical violence,” Italian police said in a statement.

The violence included being beaten with rifle butts, wooden poles, rubber hoses and whips and having electric shocks applied to body parts.

The camp was run by a Libyan man called Ossama, who was always armed with a pistol, migrants told investigators.

African migrants in a detention camp in Tripoli, Libya Credit: Reuters

Migrants who could not raise enough cash for the onward journey to Europe were treated as sexual slaves or sold as labourers to other gangs, the Italian police said. Others were murdered.

“All the women who were among us, once we were locked up in the shed where they kept us, were systematically and repeatedly raped by two Libyans and three Nigerians who managed the place,” one migrant told police.

“You could not escape. We were locked inside. The Libyans and one of the Nigerians were armed with automatic weapons while the other two Nigerians had sticks.”

The migrants said they were given seawater to drink and stale bread to eat.

One migrant said he witnessed two others shot dead after they tried to escape. At least one migrant had died of hunger, witnesses said.

“We were all subjected to continual violence and torture until our families could send enough money for our liberation,” one survivor said.

The price of being allowed to leave the detention centre was 10,000 Libyan dinars – £5,700, a fortune to migrants fleeing poverty and unrest in sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Luigi Patronaggio, a prosecutor in Sicily, said the abuses perpetrated in the camp amounted to “crimes against humanity.”

The investigation had “confirmed the inhumane conditions” endured by many migrants and “the need to act, at an international level, to protect their most basic human rights.”

Italy and the EU have collaborated with the Libyan coast guard to reduce the number of migrant boats trying to reach Europe.

As interior minister, Matteo Salvini declared Italy’s ports to be closed to NGO rescue boats, but the 14-month coalition of which he was a part collapsed last month.

It was replaced by a new coalition, an alliance between the centre-Left Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, which human rights activists hope will be more sympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers.

Mr Salvini has warned there will be an angry backlash among Italians if the country starts letting in too many asylum seekers.