The International Criminal Court (ICC) says it is weighing an investigation into human trafficking and refugee-related crimes in Libya, where the UN says they are being traded in so-called slave markets.
Thousands of asylum seekers, including women and children, are being held in detention centers across Libya where “crimes, including killings, rapes and torture, are alleged to be commonplace,” Fatou Bensouda, ICC’s chief prosecutor revealed Monday.
She said that her office was gathering evidence of crimes allegedly committed against the refugees attempting to transit through Libya.
I was “dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings,” Bensouda added.
The Gambian lawyer also said the ICC prosecution is examining the possibility of opening an investigation into refugee-related crimes in Libya provided that they fall under the court’s jurisdiction.
Refugees commonly use the western coast of Libya to embark on a risky journey through the Mediterranean Sea toward Europe.
In April, the UN raised alarm over a climbing number of refugees passing through Libya. Refugees are typically traded for as little as $200 to $500, and are held for an average of two to three months and subject to malnutrition and sexual abuses, said the head of the UN migration agency’s Libya mission, Othman Belbeisi.
Libya, which is gripped by the militancy since the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi six years ago, has enabled human trafficking networks to operate with impunity.
“Amidst the lawlessness and violence that continue to plague the country, a lucrative people-smuggling business has been established along routes running from southern Libya to the Mediterranean coast in the north where boats bound for Europe depart,” Amnesty International reported last year.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing conflicts or extreme poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are over 264,000 refugees currently in Libya. At least 900 asylum seekers have died or have gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, according to the IOM.