Migrant Purgatory, Trapped In A Libyan Detention Center

Migrants detained last year in Gasr Garabulli
Migrants detained last year in Gasr Garabulli
Domenico Quirico

GASR GARABULLI — Migrant #322 slowly lifts his head and opens his eyes. The long shadow of the sun, punctuated by the jail's metal bars, bathes the cement walls as the blue sky seeps through the metal grate ceiling.

It's silent in the cells, except for the faint sound of children crying in the distance and the soft whispers of their mothers to lull them back to sleep. All the imprisoned migrants are in their cells, awaiting the coming distribution of food. Despite being only 24, migrant #322 is among the prison's older residents, and today was tasked with taking away the prison's trash.

He lays on the warm sun baked wall in a brief moment of tranquility, one of his few small victories among the countless episodes of suffering he has endured in his time here, having now been detained for more than a year.

The migrant trafficking in the coastal town of Gasr Garabulli seems to have slept through the Libyan revolution and its subsequent collapse, indifferent to the trials of its detainees and the chaos surrounding it. The country's ongoing civil war has not stopped migrants from across Africa from flocking to this town near the coast, hoping to catch a boat across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Italy and further afield in Europe.

Gasr Garabulli sits on the coastal highway that links the capital Tripoli to the city of Misrata, and is a temporary home to many African migrants — although many end up in detention for what seems like an eternity, their dreams dashed.

The Libyan countryside of olive and orange groves and the blue horizon of the Mediterranean sea, both lit by the springtime sun, are invisible from the camp's courtyard. They are reminders of the tortuous journey the migrants took to reach here, a beautiful but melancholy stretch of the long path they zigzagged through. I had met other migrants there before, in a land of low-lying sand dunes, bean plantations and eucalyptus trees slowly dying in the desert winter.

Thousands of men, women and children from sub-Saharan Africa languish in Libyan jails, forgotten as nameless victims of conflicts and economic distress. There are a dozen such prison centers in the capital alone. In the camps lining Libya's long coastline, men are only allowed to leave to work in fields in near slave conditions. The women are confined to small cells, where they are subjected to sexual abuse and often wind up pregnant.

The head of the Gasr Garabulli camp is elegantly dressed with a blazer, eager to answer any question. "Africans stay here for a short time, we clothe them and feed them," he says. "We put them in contact with their countries' embassies to organize their repatriation, and everything works well."

He allows me to enter the prison camp, and the guards are unfazed when I ask them about their work. A narrow, fetid cell which could hold at most 10 people hosts at least 50 women and children. A tiny window lets in a sliver of sunlight, as an unbearable stench of rotten food and human waste fills the room. The cell is so cramped that people step over each other to reach mats on the floor.

Pleading for help

A bit of writing scrawled on the wall offers a more hopeful take of the situation: "God is great" and "I love life." A large woman sits in the corner and breast-feeds her child, maintaining extraordinary dignity even in such a terrible place.

Soon a crowd of men, young and old alike, gathers around me when they realize I'm a reporter. "I beg you, please help us, tell the world we've been here for months and years," they plead.

One prisoner adds: "They tortured us at night and stole our documents, phones and everything we had, even though we worked for Libyans for just a few dinars," he says.

Another confirms the abuse: "They mistreat us and then ask us for money, many of us are sick and we can't ask our families for help." I ask them about what the prison head had told me about contacting their respective embassies. "Embassies? What embassies?" they reply. Someone notes that a representative from the Nigerian embassy came once. "But he left without speaking to any of his fellow citizens."

Miles away down the highway in Tripoli, young Africans lie in wait in wheelbarrows in the city's old Ottoman souq, or market. Millions of dollars are exchanged in the local black market, and with just a nod from their boss the youths quickly rise to fill large heavy suitcases flush with wads of cash. Little do they know that when they least expect it, an official will knock at their door to take them to one of the prison camps — perhaps even tonight.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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