Malta: JRS report, Beyond Imagination, documents human rights abuses of asylum seekers in Libya

04 February 2014

Related: Malta

Valletta, 4 February 2014 – Asylum seekers should not be returned to Libya for any reason whatsoever because their safety, lives and freedoms are at risk. In Libya, they have virtually no chance of getting protection, even now that the Gaddafi regime has collapsed.

This is the central and unequivocal conclusion of ‘Beyond Imagination‘, a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta publication documenting the experiences of asylum seekers arriving in Malta through Libya, launched on Monday at an event in Valletta.

“Through this publication we wanted to highlight the consequences of return to Libya for asylum seekers, by bringing to light the stories we hear repeatedly when they arrive in Malta. Most have suffered horrific abuse – including indefinite detention in miserable conditions, beatings, rape and other forms of sexual abuse – and are denied the possibility of obtaining any kind of protection”, said Katrine Camilleri, JRS Malta Director, at the launch on Monday 3 February.

“So we are reiterating our call to the government to refrain from actions that will result, directly or indirectly, in the return of migrants to Libya until the situation there has drastically improved and the Libyan government puts in place effective measures to safeguard human rights and guarantee access to protection in practice”.

The JRS publication is based on interviews with asylum seekers from Eritrea and Somalia. In the words of one of them, life for sub-Saharan African asylum seekers in Libya is “beyond imagination”. Conditions are so bad that dying is preferable to returning. All of those interviewed described a life of constant fear and insecurity – of total powerlessness shaped by forces beyond their control, where the only option they have is to risk their lives in search of protection elsewhere.

JRS Malta stresses that any talk of Libya being part of the solution to the challenges presented by irregular immigration has to be seen in the light of conditions on the ground there. While Malta clearly has the right to control immigration, this control has to be exercised within the parameters set by the country’s obligations under human rights law. These obligations bind Malta to ensure that no one is returned to a country where s/he will face serious violations of their rights and where s/he is unable to obtain protection if needed.

“While immigration control is entirely legitimate, we are not permitted to secure our borders at the cost of other people’s lives and safety”, Dr Camilleri said.

For further information contact:
Mark Cachia SJ, Jesuit Refugee Service Communicators Officer; tel. +356 7 994 4240;

James Stapleton, International Communications Coordinator, Jesuit Refugee Service; tel.: 39 06 69868 468; +39 346 234 3841;

For copies of ‘Beyond Imagination‘, contact JRS Malta at or download the report here:

Information for the editor
JRS works in more than 50 countries around the world. The organisation employs over 1,300 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

While immigration control is entirely legitimate, we are not permitted to secure our borders at the cost of other people’s lives and safety.