Nearly 80 rescued migrants have been forced off a cargo ship after it docked at a Libya port following an eleven-day standoff.
The standoff began on November 10, when dozens of migrants and refugees, who tried to reach Italy on a rubber boat, were rescued and returned to Libya by the Nivin, a cargo ship with a Panamanian flag.
Many refused to leave the ship after it docked at the Libyan port city of Misrata.
Some of them told CNN they would rather die than go back to Libya where they said they had been tortured. They want to be taken to a safe country.
Three teenagers on board told CNN they had experienced too much abuse and violence in Libya, and were too scared to go back.
In a video taken on the cargo ship and sent to CNN, Tuha, a 16-year-old Eritrean, said he had been in Libya since 2016.
“They sold me three times. They punished me. Even I had my brother die in my hands, in Bani Walid. I saw so many things.
“How I can go down?” he continued. “If I go down from this boat they will kill me. They can do anything, but I will not go down… This is my decision,” Tuha said in the video.
Journey in the Mediterranean
The group of 95 refugees and migrants set out for Italy on a rubber boat on November 6.
Two teenagers told CNN they had traveled nearly 200 kilometers across the Mediterranean before they came across the Nivin.
The ship’s crew promised to take them to a safe country in Europe, but brought them back to Libya instead.
According to them, they could already see the coast of Malta and were out of Libyan waters before they were returned the port in Libya.
After they arrived in Misrata, the Libyan authorities repeatedly tried to get the rescued migrants to leave the ship, they said.
Humanitarian organizations were kept away from the area as armed Libyans moved in.
The last photo sent to CNN, by a teenager on board the ship, appears to show a man carrying a gun while standing on the port.
One teenager told CNN by phone that Libyan authorities threatened to burn the cargo ship down after they refused to leave.
“We don’t want to go outside until we die here,” Kai Dar, a South Sudanese 18-year-old, told CNN by phone.
On Tuesday, after the migrants and refugees were reportedly forced off the ship, a man who identified himself as a member of the Libyan coastguard answered one of the phones the teenagers had been using to communicate.
“Everything is ok,” he said, though he refused to answer questions about the conditions the rescued migrants were in, or where they had been taken.
“I will chuck this phone. For now, I can’t tell you any more.”
The man gave another number for CNN to call him on later, but those calls went unanswered.
Libya’s Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Last week, a small group on the Nivin agreed to leave, including a mother and infant child.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said there were 28 minors on board the ship, and that there were 77 people in total.
“For sure there are children on board, and as far as we know the authorities are trying to find a solution for the current situation,” said Unicef Libya spokesperson Mostafa Omar, speaking on Monday.
Dar told CNN, some of the officials, who visited the Nivin Monday afternoon threatened to put them in prison in Malta if they refused to leave the ship.
In a statement released last week, human rights organization Amnesty International said Libyan, European and Panamanian authorities should ensure that those on board weren’t forcibly taken to a Libyan detention center “where they could face torture and other abuse.”
“It is high time the Libyan authorities put an end to the ruthless policy of unlawfully detaining refugees and migrants. No one should be sent back to Libya to be held in inhumane conditions and face torture and other ill-treatment,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
Dar told CNN that several people on board were already injured, after being burnt by oil from the rubber boat, they had initially traveled in.
He said they were forced to urinate in bottles, because there was no bathroom on the Nivin, though they were grateful international organizations had been delivering food and water to the ship.
“We’re so tired, so tired,” Dar said.