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“In Tariq al Matar, the police guards shot at the refugees”: Wilsons delegation joins international legal debate on atrocities against migrants detained in Libya

Date posted: 19 March 2019

Tunis March 15th-16th 2019: A Wilsons’ delegation was honoured to participate in an international conference on the legal response to human rights violations perpetrated against migrants attempting to find safety in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean from the Libyan coastline.


Immigration partner, Anita Vasisht, and head of public law, James Elliott, attended the conference together with immigration solicitor Giulia Tranchina who is actively involved in demonstrations and media campaigns to stop the enslavement, rape, torture, and, in some cases, death of mainly Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali and Sudanese migrants caught in Libya.


Among the issues explored were: legal solutions available via the African Court on Human and People’s Rights; possible legal in-roads for the protection of migrants pushed back to Tunisia; and domestic and/or ECHR proceedings against what is effectively the externalisation of Europe’s borders.


The most focussed consideration was given to possible legal challenges primarily to the Libyan and Italian governments – the latter, in particular, because of its perceived role in ordering the “push-back by proxy” of boats carrying migrants via the agency of the Libyan coast guard or, increasingly, via merchant ships in the search and rescue zone instituted by the Libyan government. In this way, migrants who have managed to leave Libya are captured at sea and returned to Libyan detention camps where they are subjected to the most atrocious abuses.


Wilsons represents a number of clients who were subjected to brutal treatment in detention camps at the hands of the Libyan authorities; and, in December 2018, we launched the first ever legal challenge against the UK’s Department for International Development for the role it’s believed to play in funding these migrant detention camps.


Wilsons were the only UK lawyers to participate in the Tunis conference, and we were pleased to share our experiences and ideas with other participants, among them: Italian, Tunisian and Libyan lawyers and activists; and representatives of international organisations including the African Commission, Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Danish Refugee Council, the International Criminal Court, and Médecins Sans Frontières.


Fruitful debate was had and strong connections made.


In addition, while in Tunis, we held meetings with Eritrean refugees who described to us the beatings and ill-treatment they suffered in Libya’s detention camps.


We returned from the conference determined to take effective action.


You can read the experience of an Eritrean refugee in Libya here.


If you require advice or representation in connection with immigration detention or any other public law matter please contact Penny Visram on 0208 885 7924 or