Published by Alessia Candito | 19 / Dec / 2023

Testimonies from the Libyan hell

On 17 October, the Mare Jonio was placed under administrative detention and fined up to 10,000 euros for failing to coordinate with the so-called Libyan coastguard and for not requesting a port of disembarkation in Libya for the 69 people rescued during the second operation of the 14th Mediterranean Sea Search and Rescue mission. In the coming weeks, the Court of Trapani will rule on the appeal lodged by Mediterranea against the action taken against the Mare Jonio.

Below we publish two articles by Alessia Candito of Repuublica, dated 19 October and 19 December respectively, which report on the testimonies of the people rescued from the Mare Jonio, collected by the ship's doctor, Francesco Nastasio.

Mare Jonio doctor: 'I tell you how people die in Libyan jails'

Francesco Nastasio speaks: 'At least sixty per cent of the shipwrecked people I have visited show signs of recent and past violence.

Alessia Candito on Repubblica - 19th October 2023

"In Libya you are a thing, when you weigh 30 kilos you are no longer useful and the jailers realise they will never earn a penny from you again, they let you out. But in reality you are already dead. Nishan is now 20 years old, but in the four years he has spent in Libya he has repeatedly thought he would never get there. Seven times he has tried to cross, seven times he has been intercepted, seven times he has faced the hellish cycle of detention in camps. He may not speak, but his scars and wounds speak for themselves. "At least sixty per cent of the castaways I have examined show signs of recent and past violence," explains Francesco Nastasio, the doctor on board the Mare Jonio.

The ship, which belongs to the NGO Mediterranea, arrived in the port of Trapani yesterday and will have to stay there for twenty days because, as the captain's office has established on the basis of a document received directly from the Viminale, it did not ask Libya for coordination and a "safe port". Which is not considered as such by the Farnesina, the European Commission or the United Nations. And certainly not by the shipwrecked, whose bodies and minds bear the marks of months, if not years, spent there. Infected and non-infected contusions, compound fractures, limb restrictions: Dr Nastasio lists the cases he has treated, but behind each patient, he explains, there are stories of violence, abuse, mutilation. Efrem broke a different toe every day, says the doctor, who immediately noticed during the examination that the limbs were battered and deformed by fractures that no one had ever treated before. "They wanted me to call my family to send them money," he explained. Other marks on his body bear witness to the violence of the Tunisian police, who caught and punished him for crossing the border.

They beat me up," he told the doctor, "then they forced me to go back. To Libya. Where it is enough to be a foreigner and walk down the street to be kidnapped and imprisoned, either in an official camp on the charge of 'illegal entry' or unofficially, where you don't even need a legal pretext to be detained. Torture and violence are a constant in both.

Moussa can no longer move his right hand. They literally burned it off, forcing him to plunge it into the embers while they contacted his family by video call to force them to pay the ransom. That they were prepared to go even further, even to take his life, he, just 22 years old, had concrete proof of when the uncle with whom he had made the long journey from Sudan was killed in front of his eyes, his head split open by a bolt. People are dying in Libyan prisons. From torture, from violence, from hunger and misery. To become a warning. A Sudanese boy who tried to escape with others from the Al Assah camp - some survivors told the doctor on board the Mare Jonio - was burnt alive in front of everyone. This gruesome murder was meant to be an example and is now a recurring nightmare for those who were forced to watch helplessly.

"The visible wounds have all been treated, but each of these people carries within them traumas that are not visible and that cannot be treated in the short time and with the instruments we have on board," the doctor explains. It takes time, patience and an appropriate environment for the bruises of the soul and mind to come out. For many, talking is a liberation. For others, it is necessary to wait before the scars of gunshots, stabbings and blunt objects of varying sharpness become stories of the "deliberate acts of violence" - as the doctor calls them - behind them.

"Crossing the sea is dangerous, but living there is even more so," many on board declared, as many repeated after disembarking in Lampedusa, in Pozzallo, on the Calabrian coast. It is better to risk losing one's life than to do so every day in Libya. A hell to which, according to Rome, the shipwrecked should have been returned by the Mare Jonio, despite the final judgements of the Italian courts. Which, for its disobedience, is now rocking in the port.

Libya, the map of violence.
The horror of the lagers in the stories of the shipwrecked in the Mare Jonio trial

Mediterranea's ship was sanctioned for not returning the shipwrecked people to Tripoli

Alessia Candito on Repubblica - 19th December 2023

Bir al Ghanam, Zuara, Ghariyan, Warschafana, Zawiya: in the documents filed by Mediterranea in Trapani to contest the detention of the ship after the last mission, there is also a map of the horrors in Libya. There are the names of the formal and informal prisons where most of the rescued shipwrecked were held, mistreated, beaten, forced to do hard labour. And there is the name of one of the 'masters of horror', Abdul Sattar, master of the Warschafana camp, a private prison controlled by militias in Libya. This is where, according to the port authorities, the Mare Jonio should have gone after asking for safe harbour and instructions. It is a pity that the Viminale itself does not consider Libya to be a safe country, that dozens of sentences sanction de facto refoulement in Libya, and that there are no countless reports from the UN or its agencies stating in black and white that the violation of human rights has become an industry there.

"If the shipwrecked people can also be qualified as migrants/refugees/asylum seekers, and therefore as beneficiaries of international protection, the concept of a safe place is enriched with further requirements related to the need not to violate the fundamental rights of people, The magistrate of Agrigento decided to accept the prosecution's request for the captain and crew of the Mare Jonio, who had already been charged in the past for refusing to hand over the shipwrecked people to Libyan patrol boats. A decision, according to the magistrate, which is in fact a just act, "given that Libya cannot be considered a safe port".

In this regard, there is the weight of what has been affirmed by the UNHCR, which states in a note that "commanders who find themselves in emergency situations at sea cannot be asked, ordered or compelled to disembark rescued people in Libya for fear of incurring sanctions or delays in the designation of a safe port". The same principles were adopted by the Court of Cassation in its final acquittal of the Sea Watch commander, Carola Rackete: "the concept of a safe place cannot be limited to the physical protection of persons, but necessarily includes respect for their fundamental rights".

And this is a situation that has not changed over time, as the testimonies of the shipwrecked people rescued by Mare Jonio during its last mission show. People like Ibrahim, a 32-year-old from Sudan. He has experienced what warfare really is on his own skin, which still bears the marks - documented in the ship's doctor's report - of the regular torture sessions, of the beatings administered three times a day with such regularity that there were no meals, of the gunshot wounds that were never treated and are now rolled up into extensive scars. This is not an isolated incident, an accident. It is the rule. And Warschafana is a nightmare, an instrument of blackmail.

Nour, an Eritrean who is now 23, was caught trying to cross, dragged and imprisoned in Zouara prison. As in other camps, the only way out is to pay the equivalent of five hundred euros. To force family and friends to send them money, torture, beatings and abuse are filmed and sent to loved ones outside the prison. But these are impossible sums for someone whose only way out is a life-threatening sea crossing. Then you end up in Abdul Sattar's kingdom, and from there no one is sure of getting out alive. "The sea is extremely dangerous, but life in Libya is even more dangerous. We'd rather risk dying than continue living in Libya," Baba, a 27-year-old Sudanese man rescued by the Mare Jonio on his sixth attempt to cross, told the ship's doctor. Only once has he managed to escape after being brought back by Libyan patrol boats. On all the others he ended up in a camp where he was tortured for months. He got out by paying a ransom, 'when you weigh 30 kilos and are no longer of any use because you are close to death', or with months or years of forced labour. Hands and limbs deformed by work or by sticks and bars, disabilities, disabilities, extensive trauma, are all evidence of this.

And Warschafana is not the only lager where one may not survive. Ousman was imprisoned first in Bir al-Ghanam then in Al Assah. "A group of boys," he explained to the doctor on board the Mare Jonio, "tried to escape, but they were caught. They caught one of them, a Sudanese boy, doused him with petrol and set him on fire'. Everyone had to witness that barbarity. Because it was a message, a warning to everyone. And now it is also an element for the court that will have to decide whether it was legitimate to blockade Mare Jonio for twenty days for not bringing 69 people back to that hell.

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