‘I’ll be killed once arrested’: The migrant activists trapped in Libya with a target on their backs

Exclusive: ‘I changed eight places in four days. I barely sleep,’ says David from an unidentified location

Ahmed Aboudouh
Tuesday 18 January 2022 18:04
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‘I’ll be killed once arrested’: Migrant activist trapped in Libya pleads for help from International community

David Olaver and Hassan Azakaria are sure the authorities and armed militias would kill them if they could find their hideout somewhere in Libya.

To escape, they stay out of public sight, move from one place to another under cover of darkness, and take extreme cautionary measures to ensure their calls are not intercepted.

Both have appealed for help to escape Libya. They accuse the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli and Libyan officials of dodging their desperate pleas for safety.

The pair, who have campaigned about the ill-treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, spoke to The Independent from two unidentified locations in the country.

David explains how he survived another attack by three armed men on Friday. “I am afraid I would be killed once arrested,” he says.

Hassan, who had to separate from David to avoid being arrested together, and is now also on the run, says he is gripped with fear of the unknown.

“We move from one place to another to avoid being arrested. If they arrest anyone of us, he will definitely die because of what we’ve been doing,” he says.

David is an outspoken illegal migrant from South Sudan. He has created a website and has been active on Twitter to denounce the treatment of refugees detained in Libya.

Hassan is Sudanese and has been stranded in Libya for more than three years. Both failed at least three times to cross the Mediterranean to Europe as they fled civil war, social unrest and corruption in their respective countries.

A Libyan human rights activist, who is close to David and Hassan and spoke under condition of anonymity for safety reasons, warned that both activists “are in great danger”.

“The Libyan authorities and militias are looking for David and Hassan, and this is proof of their influence and courage.”

A Libyan government spokesperson and other officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Independent.

In October, the Libyan authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants in the western town of Gargaresh, including hundreds of children and women, many pregnant, according to the UN. Authorities at the time described it as a security operation against illegal migration and drug trafficking.

Activists say that since then the situation of stranded refugees and asylum seekers in Libya has only deteriorated.

“When Gargaresh was attacked, I managed to escape. The day after, I organised a peaceful demonstration with others who escaped from the prison,” David says.

David, who has become a spokesperson for a large number of migrants, has been part of negotiations with the UNHCR and Libyan illegal immigration authorities over the relocation of refugees and better detention conditions.

But last week, Libyan security forces violently dispersed and arrested more than 600 refugees and asylum seekers and burned down their makeshift tents where they had been camping out in front of the UNHCR centre in Tripoli since last October.

Those arrested were sent to a detention centre in the nearby town of Ain Zara, while others managed to flee.

Libya has been in constant turmoil since an uprising toppled and killed long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The North African country has since become the main transit point for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

According to the UN, Libya currently hosts 43,113 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Up to 90 per cent of people crossing the Mediterranean to Europe depart from Libya.

Traffickers pack ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats with migrants, many fleeing war or poverty in Africa and the Middle East. But thousands have drowned during the dangerous journey, and those rescued and then returned to Libya are often taken to overcrowded and inhumane detention camps that are rife with torture, sexual assault and other abuses.

David and Hassan say they are on the run to avoid being arrested and killed. After last week’s crackdown, David says the pair have become primary targets for the authorities.

“They came and called our names out, as the leaders of the protests,” he says. He also claims he received phone calls from unknown numbers for two days in an apparent attempt to pinpoint his location.

David says he had to change his phone SIM card and location multiple times to avoid his Libyan neighbours identifying him.

“I had changed eight places in four days. I barely sleep,” he says. “I have been imprisoned so many times here in Libya and dodged countless detentions. Now my life is at risk.”

David accuses the UNHCR of failing to provide him and hundreds of activists and migrants in Libya with safety from the “inhumane” treatment meted out by authorities.

“I am afraid I would be killed once arrested. Libya doesn’t want me; the militias don’t like what I do, and the UNHCR doesn’t want to protect me.”

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