Pope Francis compared the detention centers for migrants and refugees in Libya with the concentration camps, saying that the world only receives a diluted version of hell life for the people who live there.
Thousands of refugees and migrants are said to be detained in 11 “official” detention centers across the country as well as “Private prisons” run by armed groups and traffickers where extortion, rape and abuse are rampant, according to the United Nations, medical agencies as well as migrants and refugees.
The pope, who has in the past called for the closure of the camps, made his comments Wednesday in his homily during a mass to mark the seventh anniversary of his trip to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the place of landing of many migrants making the perilous crossing of North Africa.
Starting from his prepared address, he recalled how an interpreter translating his conversation with a migrant seven years ago only gave him a “distilled” version of what the migrant actually said.
“This is what is happening today in Libya. They give us the distilled version, “said the pope, who made the defense of migrants an important part of his seven-year papacy.
“Yes, there is a war [in Libya] and we know it’s ugly, but you can’t imagine the hell people live there in these detention lagers, “he said.
Lager is an abbreviation of the German word “Konzentrationslager”, or concentration camp.
“All of these people had hope when they crossed the sea,” said Francis.
Libyan detention centers
Libya is a major gateway for African migrants hoping to reach Europe.
According to the United Nations, there are more than 40,000 refugees and migrants in Libya.
A 2018 UN report pointed out that migrants are subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the moment they enter Libya, during their stay and in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean, if they get there .
“The conditions in these centers are crazy,” a 17-year-old migrant from Gambia told Al Jazeera who did not wish to be named.
“Sometimes you get food, sometimes you don’t have food. If they give you bread, you eat half and save half. You don’t know when you will eat next. If you have no money, your only way out is either to flee or to die.
“If they catch people running away, they shoot you. They can shoot you in the leg, they can shoot you in the head. Everything is a risk. ”
Another migrant from the Central African Republic described the time spent in a center as “the time between life and death”, adding that many of his friends died there because of the brutal conditions.
Human rights groups have said that abuse, including beatings and forced labor, is rampant in detention centers.
“The conditions are dire. Hundreds of people are locked up in overcrowded hangars without access to adequate sanitation. Many of them have been detained for months or even years. Worry is all they know, “Amira Rajab Elhemali, national assistant for field operations for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Al Jazeera.
Detainees in Libyan camps include those who left on boats for Europe and were brought back by the European Union-backed Libyan coast guard, said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).