Migrants are being raped, shot and tortured during their desperate journeys to Europe even before they risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean, a doctor has revealed.
Anna Crepet, who works for medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said treating the thousands of men, women and children arriving in Italy feels “like working in a warzone”.
Speaking in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where MSF medics work at boat landings and in reception centres, she told The Independent most migrants go untreated for potentially fatal injuries until they reach safety.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re working in a warzone but here I think it’s even worse, because we see injuries that haven’t been treated for weeks,” Dr Crepet said.
“We see lots of fractures through beating, lots of gunshot wounds. We find bullets in muscles and under the skin.”
She recounted how one man arrived in Sicily with a hole through one thigh where a bullet had passed through and become embedded in his other leg.
But some injuries are harder to spot. Dr Crepet said almost all women who make the journey from their homes in Africa or the Middle East are raped along the way, often arriving several months pregnant.
Migrants' desperate boat journeys to Europe
Migrants' desperate boat journeys to Europe
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Migrants climb in the back of a lorry on the A16 highway leading to the Eurotunnel in Calais, June 2015
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A police officer sprays tear gas to migrants trying to access the Channel Tunnel on the A16 highway in Calais, northern France, June 2015
PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
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Migrants jump out of a lorry after being discovered by French gendarmerie officers
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A migrant sits under the trailer of a lorry
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A Belgian navy sailor passes life vests to migrants sitting in a rubber boat as they approach the Belgian Navy Vessel Godetia, June 2015
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Migrants on the Belgian Navy vessel Godetia after they were saved during a search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, June 2015
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Iraqis wait as they are detained by Hungarian police after crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border illegally near the village of Asotthalom, Hungary, June 2015
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Syrian refugees walking on train tracks through Macedonia on the Western Balkans migration route, after entering Europe through Greece, June 2015
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A group of migrants huddle together during an operation to remove them from the Italian-French border in the Italian city of Ventimiglia. Italy and France engaged in a war of words as a standoff over hundreds of Africans offered a graphic illustration of Europe's migration crisis. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described images of migrants perched on rocks at the border town of Ventimiglia after being refused entry to France as a "punch in the face for Europe", June 2015
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A migrant is carried by Italian police in Ventimiglia, Italy. Police reportedly removed migrants from under a railway bridge, June 2015
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A Syrian child holds a drawing as he waits to disembark from Belgian Navy vessel Godetia at the Augusta port, Italy. Around 250 migrants from Syria arrived at the Sicilian harbour from a Damascus refugee camp, June 2015
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A dinghy overcrowded with Afghan immigrants arrived on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, May 2015
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An Afghan child migrant is helped off a rib on the gReek island of Kos, May 2015
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An Afghan migrant girl holds the hand of a woman as they arrive on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, May 2015
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Afghan migrants crossed part of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, May 2015
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Afghan migrants arrive on a beach of Kos, May 2015
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Rescuers help children to disembark in the Sicilian harbor of Pozzallo, Italy in April 2015
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A boat transporting migrants arrives in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at sea, April 2015
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Armed Forces of Malta personnel in protective clothing carry the body of a dead immigrant off Italian coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti as surviving migrants watch in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, April 2015
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Rescued migrants talk to a member of the Malta Order after a fishing boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, is brought ashore along with 23 others retreived by the Italian Coast Guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Boiler Wharf, Senglea in Malta, April 2015
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A boat of would-be immigrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Most of those crossing the Mediterranean headed to Italy in December 2014
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The Sierra Leone-flagged Ezadeen vessel, carrying hundreds of migrants, is towed by the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Tyr in rough seas in the Mediterranean sea off Italy's south coast in January 2015
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Hundreds of migrants seen on board the decks of the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M cargo ship - believed to be carrying 700 illegal immigrant altogether after it docked at the Italian port of Gallipoli in the early hours of 31 December 2014
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Hundreds of migrants seen on board Blue Sky M after it docked at the Italian port of Gallipoli in December 2014
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A crowded boat of rescued African migrants off the coast of Sicily in October 2014
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Migrants of sub-Saharan origin being rescued last month as part of the Mare Nostrum operation in Italy in October 2014
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An Italian Customs Police boat takes illegal immigrants on board off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy in September 2014. Some 40,000 migrants have died since the year 2000, more than half of them in the Mediterranean
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Migrants are pictured on an Italian navy ship after being rescued in open international waters in the Mediterranean Sea between the Italian and the Libyan coasts in August 2014
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Firemen and policemen evacuate the dead bodies of migrants from a boat on July 1st, 2014 in the port of Pozzallo, Sicily
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An Italian navy motor boat approaches a boat full of migrants making its way to Europe. The boat was carrying almost 600 people – but some 30 died during the journey in June 2014
“They tend to say very little about what they've been through but sometimes we see scars and wounds from rape,” she said.
“We know that most of the women who come here alone must have been raped - and a lot of women arrive on their own."
Dr Crepet likened some of the stories she had heard to torture, telling of migrants being gang-raped in front of their loved ones by their captors in Libya.
“Men or women, it doesn't matter,” she said. “We've seen 13-year-olds who have been raped."
Many migrants tell doctors similar stories of being kidnapped, held hostage and beaten in Libya by gangs demanding money.
But even before they get to the lawless country, where most smugglers’ boats are launched towards Italy, people coming from sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East are driven for weeks through the desert in overcrowded pick-up trucks.
Dr Crepet said the Sahara was “one of the deadliest parts of the journey”, with many migrants being murdered or dying in car accidents or of dehydration.
She met one Eritrean man with an amputated leg who was run over when he fell out of an open lorry and could not stand back up on the sand.
He survived and was treated for his severe injuries in Sicily but many others are lost, often with their deaths going unreported.
A 17-year-old Palestinian boy who journeyed to Italy from Gaza earlier this year told Save the Children workers how three people thrown off the truck he was in were left behind to die in the desert.
“They gave us water to drink out of a can but it was mixed with petrol,” Yusuf said. “We were allowed to eat once a day…some people died during this trip from hunger and thirst.”
Another teenager, from Somalia, told the charity how he travelled through the desert with women who were raped and forced to perform sex acts on smugglers as they drove.
“One of the women who was raped was seven months pregnant,” Ismail said.
“When she came back to the group took a scarf and tried to strangle herself but luckily we stopped her.”
When he reached Libya, he and other migrants were kidnapped by uniformed men and imprisoned in an apartment until they paid an extra $300 (£200).
“We weren't able to speak amongst ourselves and we were constantly beaten without any motive,” he said. The teenager was held for a month before his mother wired the money they demanded.
Dr Crepet said injured migrants in Libya are too afraid of going to hospitals because of rumours that they will be killed or handed over to police and militias.
“The people we see are survivors but many wouldn't survive because you need to be really robust and strong to be able to get through the desert, get through Libya and then get on a boat and be at sea with no leg or a bad injury, stuck for days on a boat,” she added.
“I’m always amazed to see how they survived but we don’t know how many have died along the way.
“In Libya they’re not treated like human beings, they’re treated like animals. There is a word in Arabic that the smugglers use, they call the migrants beasts.”
Dr Crepet treated one man with gashes on his arms who had been slashed by smugglers using him as an “example” of what would happen to other migrants if they did not pay up.
She has been working in Pozzallo since January and was previously based with MSF in the nearby port of Augusta.
Dr Crepet, who is Italian but trained at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and has worked at several NHS hospitals, estimated that she must have treated thousands of migrants.
She is one of dozens of MSF doctors stationed in Sicily checking people as they arrive in ports, then at reception centres and clinics, as well as educating them about infection control and hygiene.
The medic described her job as “intense” and extremely demanding, both emotionally and professionally, while overcoming language barriers and cultural differences.
“But the people you treat are amazing patients, they’re the best I could have,” Dr Crepet said.
MSF also has three boats helping search efforts in the Mediterranean, including one that rescued more than 200 people on Saturday.
A record number of migrants are expected to cross the sea to reach Europe this year and at least 2,000 have died making the voyage so far.Reuse content