PRETORIA – A 22-year-old Eritrean man died of tuberculosis exacerbated by severe malnutrition after being rescued at sea and brought to Italy, showing how dire conditions are in Libya for migrants, aid workers said on Wednesday.
Huge numbers of migrants have converged on Libya in recent years in the hope of crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, and many of those who avoid drowning are arriving in Italy in terrible physical shape.
On Monday, a ship run by Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish charity, brought 93 people including the Eritrean to Italy after rescuing them on Sunday from an overcrowded rubber boat off Libya. The man, Segen, whose full name was not given, disembarked in Pozzallo, a port on the southern coast of Sicily.
Weighing only 35 kg (77 pounds), the 1.70 m (5 ft 7 inch) tall Segen needed help to walk and was immediately taken to hospital, where he died less than 12 hours later, according to Roberto Ammatuna, the mayor of Pozzallo and head of the local hospital’s emergency room.
“He looked like he had been in a concentration camp,” Ammatuna told Reuters. “All the migrants who arrived on Monday were skin and bones, and their muscles were atrophied. Obviously the conditions in Libya are inhuman.”
Three other men were taken to hospital because of weakness and malnutrition. In January, a three-month-old baby rescued by Proactiva died partly because of severe malnutrition, the group’s medical coordinator, Guillermo Canardo, said.
People traffickers in Libya have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants to sea over the past four years, but departures have fallen dramatically since July as some local armed groups stopped smuggling and Italy and the European Union helped bolster the Tripoli-based coast guard.
Arrivals in Italy from Libya have dropped more than 72 percent this year from last, official data show. That means many may have been trapped in widely lawless Libya for longer periods than before.
“Migrants tell me they have been in Libya longer than I was hearing a year ago,” Marco Rotunno of the United Nations refugee agency said.
Segen told the doctor on board the Proactiva ship that he had been in Libya for about 18 months.
Migrants who travelled with Segen said they had been held by smugglers in a large warehouse for months, where they were tortured and beaten, according to Medu, a charity providing psychological support to those who arrive in Pozzallo. They told Medu they paid about $1,500 to make the sea crossing.
The United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands of migrants remain in Libya. Those who make it to Italy tell of being extorted, beaten, tortured, raped, starved and forced to work for no pay.
Even those in officially sanctioned detention centres or living openly in Libya have next to no access to healthcare and depend on international agencies that have a limited presence on the ground, said Christophe Biteau, Libya head of mission for MSF France.
“You have people who are on the road for months. You have people who are malnourished, and mainly illnesses linked to lack of hygiene – scabies, diarrhoea, skin infections. After that there’s what you don’t see, the psychological aspect, which I think is very significant.”
Segen’s death confirms data collected by Medu over the past four years, Marco Rotunno director of Medu, told Reuters.
About 70 percent of migrants interviewed by Medu said they were deprived of food and water while in Libya. “Many others die in Libya and we know nothing about it,” Barbieri said.