CAIRO (Middle East Eye) – Thousands of people, the majority of them Egyptians, have been forced to leave Libya by foot after being detained and deported, according to migrant solidarity groups and media reports.
The deportations have mainly taken place over the first few days of June, and followed mass raids on smuggler warehouses in border towns in eastern Libya.
The monitoring group Migrant Rescue Watch told Middle East Eye that deportations were ongoing as recently as Thursday night.
“The migrants were loaded on several trucks,” said Rob Gowans of Migrant Rescue Watch. “Some were transferred to Benghazi and some deported to Egypt.”
An Egyptian security source told Reuters that only 2,200 of the 4,000 people deported were in Libya illegally. Deportees were detained at the border and then marched 2km into Egypt, the Egyptian security source added.
A Libyan security source also put the number of those deported at 4,000, while migrant solidarity groups reported that an estimated 6,000 were being detained in conditions that they described as ‘tragic’ in a customs hangar at the Musaid border crossing to Egypt.
A Libyan security source reported that the raids were conducted following a shoot-out between smugglers and security forces.
Videos posted on Twitter, which could not be independently verified by MEE, appear to reveal the scale of the crackdowns in the eastern towns of Tobruk, Emsaed and Musaid. They show crowds of migrants being rounded up in detention centers, herded onto trucks and marched near what is described as the Libyan-Egyptian border.
Human Rights Watch criticized the deportations and the behavior of the Libyan forces during the operations.
“The conditions under which these people are rounded up appear to be incredibly violent and inhumane,” said Hanan Salah, Human Rights Watch’s associate director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“This is absolutely unacceptable the way that people are being hoarded into a certain space and yelled at, with obscenities shouted at them... they are being forced to walk and run for long periods. They’re apparently not being given the basic necessities they need. The de facto authorities or those who conducted it need to explain themselves.”
According to a 2021 UN report, the majority of Egyptians in Libya are forced to rely on smugglers to get across the border.