Asylum seeker to sue UK for funding Libyan detention centres
Ethiopian teenager says he experienced physical abuse, extortion and forced labour in centres part-funded by UK.
A teenage asylum seeker from Ethiopia is planning to sue the government for its role in funding detention centres in Libya, where he says he experienced physical abuse, extortion and forced labour.
The teenager, who turned 18 a few weeks ago, cannot be named. He lives in London and is waiting for the Home Office to determine his asylum claim. His legal action against the government’s Department for International Development (DfID) for its contribution to funding these overseas centres is thought to be the first of its kind.
The Guardian previously revealed the terrible conditions in a network of 26 detention centres across Libya. The EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa provides some funding for the centres. DfID says that the funding it provides is used to improve conditions in the camps.
Children have described being starved, beaten and abused by Libyan police and camp guards. One said the conditions were like “hell on Earth”.
The government insists the funding is necessary as part of a humane effort to dissuade people from making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing. Arguing that migrant detention centres are the responsibility of the Libyan authorities, it is understood to have raised concerns over the treatment of detainees with the Libyan government.
A spokeswoman previously told the Guardian: “We continue to help fund the European Union Trust Fund’s work to improve conditions for migrants in detention centres.”
But critics see the Libyan camps as a way for European countries to prevent asylum seekers and other migrants from reaching Europe, and the UK’s involvement as another plank of the so called “hostile environment” to keep people out.
Last year the UK government spent £10m in Libya on various initiatives, including the detention centres.
The teenager who has begun the legal action against the government claims that officials are acting unlawfully in funding the detention centres and should stop doing so. He is also asking for compensation for the suffering he endured there.
The boy’s legal team is calling on DfID to facilitate the relocation of the detention centres to the UK or other safe countries so that asylum claims can be safely processed. His lawyers have asked DfID to disclose the funding agreements between the UK and Libyan governments and any internal documents concerning the destination of UK funding in Libya as well as any untoward incidents in the centres.
The teenager fled persecution in Ethiopia because of his father’s political allegiances and finally reached the UK after a dangerous journey through Libya and across the Mediterranean.
In Libya he suffered both at the hands of traffickers and in the detention centres, some of which are controlled by local militias.
“The period I was detained and enslaved in Libya was a living hell,” he said. An expert medical report conducted in London identified 31 different lesions, including 10 on his face, which the doctor who examined him found provided “significant corroboration” of his account of repeated ill treatment.
Many of those in the camps are from Eritrea but there are also asylum seekers from Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
James Elliott of Wilsons Solicitors, who is bringing the legal action on the teenager’s behalf, said: “DfID acknowledges that conditions in the camps are appalling. We are bringing this legal challenge because it is vital that UK taxpayers’ money is not used to allow places where men, women and children are subjected to torture, rape and slavery to continue to exist.”
DfID has been approached for comment.
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