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Syrian refugee alleges killings, rapes in Libya

Syrian refugee alleges killings, rapes in Libya
A migrant from Syria prays in a wooden boat with other four men as they are assisted by Spanish NGO Open Arms during a rescue operation inside Malta's SAR zone   -  
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Francisco Seco/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved


A Syrian English teacher adrift on a small boat between Malta and Italy waiting to be rescued, told an Associated Press photographer of the atrocities he witnessed against asylum-seekers in Libya.

"Last year I've seen people get killed from the Libyan coastguard, maybe eight or seven people from African nationalities," said Mohamed Noor, an asylum-seeker from Daraa, Syria.

Noor said the Africans were shot in Zuwara, adding that two Syrian women were raped.

Noor fled his home in 2021 to escape the mandatory military draft for what he described as "Bashar al-Assad's army."

Noor and five other men who left Libya spent 40 hours at sea before they were spotted by Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard agency, in the Maltese search and rescue zone.

The Open Arms NGO rescue ship approached the small boat and found five men, three Syrians and two Libyans, on board. One was badly dehydrated, and the Open Arms nurse provided medication, blankets and suggested ways for them to protect themselves from the sun while waiting for the Italian Coast Guard to arrive.

An AP photographer joined the Open Arms rescuers in their dinghy and filmed his conversation with Noor.

He was unable to immediately file the interview from sea.

Seated at the back of his boat, Noor said his foot was badly injured while swimming to escape the Libya Coast guard.

"If you try to reason with them, they just shoot you, in front of everybody. Even if the street is crowded, they just shoot you and no one can say anything. That's it."

Hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe have made their way through Libya, where a lucrative trafficking and smuggling business has flourished in a country without a functioning government, fragmented for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by arms groups and foreign governments.

Migrants who have passed through Libyan detention centers often tell of the atrocities inside and of the abuse when captured by the Libyan Coast Guard. But Noor suggested that killings are even carried out in the street.

The AP has been unable to independently verify the accounts but human rights violations and crimes against migrants and refugees have been extensively documented by the UN and other human rights organisations.

Noor and his companions were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and taken to Lampedusa.

On the following day, the Open Arms rescue ship came across a wooden ship with dozens of migrants also escaping Libya.

As the rescuers approached, the boat capsized and began to sink leaving all the migrants in the water.

Rescuers managed to save the entire group of migrants, including one woman and two children.

All of them were from Eritrea and Sudan.

According to the UNHCR, as of August 14, over 70,000 asylum-seekers have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in 2022, over 900 have died in the attempt or have gone missing.

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