Migrant crackdown in Libya hitting home for Eritreans living in N.L.

·2 min read
Eritreans living in St. John's protested on the steps of the Confederation Building Saturday morning over the treatment of refugees in Libya.  (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Eritreans living in St. John's protested on the steps of the Confederation Building Saturday morning over the treatment of refugees in Libya. (Meg Roberts/CBC - image credit)

Eritreans in Newfoundland and Labrador are asking the federal government for help after a massive crackdown on migrants by Libyan security forces.

International news has reported overcrowding of refugees at detention facilities and stories of endured torture, sexual violence and extortion at the hands of guards in Libya.

The country is a major hub for migrants fleeing poverty and wars in Africa and the Middle East, according to the Associated Press. However it is one of the most dangerous routes refugees can take when trying to escape to Europe.

St. John's resident Yonas Gebreslasie, who organized a protest outside the Confederation Building on Saturday morning, can attest to that.

He was captured by the Libyan coast guard and ended up in a detention camp after leaving his homeland in 2006.

We want to be the voice for the voiceless people. - Yonas Gebreslasie

"I know what the suffering in Libya is because I have been in that situation myself 12 years ago … I was lucky," he said, standing in front of about 50 protesters.

"We feel that pain and that is why we are protesting."

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

Gebreslasie said it was on his third attempt to flee Eritrea that he was captured in Libya after crossing the Sahara Desert.

However, the detention camp that he was forced into was recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner and he was picked as a refugee to come to Canada.

While protesters waved both Canadian and Eritrean flags with signs that read "stop killing Eritrean refugees in Libya," Gebreslasie said he hopes the Canadian government will help other Eritreans get the same opportunity he has had.

He wants the government and the public to understand the sacrifices refugees have made and the dangerous situations they've had to endure.

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

Gebreslasie said he had a 50 per cent chance of dying while immigrating through Libya.

"So many people didn't make it like me, so many people lost their lives. It's a really harsh situation," he said.

There are between 250 to 300 Eritreans living in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Gebreslasie. Many of them are privately sponsored by family members who have made it to Canada.

He said they feel grateful for being in Newfoundland and Labrador and feel it is now their obligation to help others.

"We want to be the voice for the voiceless people," he said.

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