Migrants forced to pay for release

2012-11-18 14:05

Valletta - A group of asylum seekers recently rescued off Malta were forced to pay to be released from a Benghazi prison only to be held against their will and forced onto an overcrowded boat with little food and water, The Sunday Times of Malta reported.

The group of 246 Africans, including 28 children, arrived in Malta on 9 November after being rescued. The migrants, mainly Eritrean, have told their story to officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) officials in Malta.

The Africans told the UN officials that Libyan smugglers gave them food and water for just two days and then crammed them onto a boat with many fearing the worst when on the fifth day their engine broke down.

"This confirms that the new Libya is not safe. Armed groups are exploiting foreigners and acting with impunity," Jon Hoisaeter, UNHCR representative to Malta told The Sunday Times.

The Africans said they were imprisoned because they had no official documentation. While in prison they were approached by unidentified people who asked for money to get them released and to go by boat to Europe.

"If we did not behave, they would have beaten us and left us in prison," the migrants told the UNHCR.

After paying for release from the prison, the group was held by an armed group for several months in a small compound outside Benghazi.

One woman was reported to have died in the compound outside Benghazi.

Hoisaeter said the UNHCR has multiple sources of information tallying with the migrants' claims about Libya, which has still not signed the UN Refugee Convention.