Detectives in Sicily have arrested three men who allegedly raped and tortured dozens of migrants in a detention centre in the north-west of Libya.

Prosecutors in Agrigento have collected testimonies from numerous asylum seekers from north Africa who allegedly recognised their former captors at a migrant registration centre in Messina, Sicily.

The three alleged captors, a 27-year-old Guinean man and two Egyptians aged 24 and 26, are accused of torture, kidnapping and human trafficking.

“All the women who were with us, once housed inside the shed, were systematically and repeatedly raped,” reads the testimony of a migrant contained in the investigation documents seen by the Guardian. “We were locked up and they gave us hard bread and seawater to drink.”

“They gave us a phone to contact our relatives so we could instruct them how to pay for our release,” another migrant told magistrates. “During my imprisonment I saw two migrants shot dead because they tried to escape.”

According to the testimonies, the three men operated in the notorious Zawiya detention centre, a former military base in north-west Libya, about 28 miles (45km) west of Tripoli. According to witnesses, the detention centre included an abandoned UN container where migrants were kept prisoners.

The head of the detention centre was a powerful Libyan man named Ossama, according to the victims. Short, balding with grey hair, Ossama, described as a migrant-smuggling kingpin, has allegedly been seen whipping migrants using electric cables.

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