Sexual slavery, for Aïcha, only happened to others, in television reports. But when she found herself in Libya, locked in a room after escaping a difficult life in Guinea, she believed herself “Fucked up” : “I had left a nightmare to fall into hell. “
For many migrants, Libya, which since 2014 has become a hub to Europe, is synonymous with racketeering and violence, even torture. But for women, it is also a major risk of sexual abuse, rape or forced prostitution in a context of total impunity.
Aïcha fled Guinea in 2019 after five miscarriages: for her in-laws and the neighborhood, she was sterile or a witch. In fact, the young woman was diabetic. Desperate in the face of slander and family conflicts, this young hotel graduate wanted to “Just disappear” from his country.
She made contact with a former friend who had visibly succeeded in Libya, who dangled her with similar success and advanced her money to join her. “I did not even see the country: as soon as I arrived, I was locked up, I was a slave”, she specifies.
“I thought my life was screwed up”
Detained in a room equipped with sanitary facilities, she was forced to have sex with clients, without perceiving anything, and only saw her landlady when she put her food. “Like a dog”. “The men came drunk, I prefer not to remember, says Aïcha, still trembling. I thought my life was screwed up. “
After three months of ordeal, a Libyan comes to her aid, threatens the woman who exploits her, gives her 300 Libyan dinars (some 55 euros) and puts her on a bus for Tunisia, where she is now trying to rebuild herself. while learning computer science.
Treated for her diabetes, she ended up giving birth at the end of 2020 to a little girl, Merveille. She now dreams of Europe, but no question of returning to Libya: “Even my worst enemy, I can’t encourage him to go there. “
For two years, she has lived in a hostel in Medenine, in the south of Tunisia, with other migrant women. Many arrive from Libya, either after having fled via the land border or unsuccessfully attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
Six months sexually exploited
“It is rare that they have not suffered rape or sexual assault, says Mongi Slim, leader of the local Red Crescent. Some, protected by a man, do better, but for single women, it is almost systematic. “
So much so that, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some “Have been advised before departure [pour la Libye] an injection of effective contraceptives three months “. Others travel on the morning after pill.
Mariam, an orphan Ivorian, left her country with 1,000 euros to reach Libya via Mali and Algeria. She then hoped to earn the money necessary to rally Europe. But, in the end, over a year in this country, she spent six months in prison, sexually exploited, before fleeing to Tunisia in 2018.
“I worked for six months with a family, then I took to the sea from Zouara”, a port in western Libya, says Mariam, 35. “Armed men caught us, took us to prison and abused us by threatening us”, she says. According to her, they belonged to militias running camps for illegal migrants where extortion, rape and forced labor are practiced.
Men and boys too
The centers officially under the control of the government, where the coast guard financed by the European Union send the candidates into exile after having intercepted them, are also plagued by corruption and violence, including sexual, according to the UN. .
In the center where Mariam was taken, “Every morning, a chief chose girls destined for Libyans who had specially rented rooms” for these tariffed relationships, she says. “I was given bread, sardines, salad and I was locked up there for a month, until they changed my place”, she recalls, anger in her voice: “They were armed, they took drugs, they paid the chief but not me. “
Men and boys are also victims of sexual abuse, report human rights activists. These crimes were accentuated with the intensification of the Libyan conflict from 2014. Three detention centers were closed by Tripoli two years ago. The arrival in March of a unified government gives hope for a decline in impunity and violence.
Faced with sexual crimes committed in “Detention centers, police prisons and against migrants living in cities”, the UN decided in 2020 to deploy protection officers. But they have not yet been recruited and migrants continue to be returned to Libya, to the chagrin of international organizations. On June 12, a record number of people intercepted in the Mediterranean – more than 1,000 – were returned to Libyan jails, according to the UNHCR.