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UN helping migrants stranded in Libya smuggling hub

UN aiding stranded migrants in LibyaThe UN migration agency is attempting to provide assistance to large numbers of migrants held in the smuggling hub of Sabratha as rival factions battle for control of the city.

At least 4,000 migrants, including pregnant women, new-born babies and unaccompanied children, were transferred from informal camps and dormitories to a hangar in the city since the clashes ended on Friday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Sabratha has been the most common departure point for mostly sub-Saharan African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat from Libya.

But the number of crossings dropped sharply in July after an armed group struck a deal with officials from the UN-backed government in Tripoli to block departures, under pressure from Italy and other European Union member states.

That set off three weeks of fighting which ended with the withdrawal of the armed group. Migrants since rounded up were held at sites the group had controlled, local officials said.

“We are concerned by the large number of migrants caught up in recent developments in Sabratha,” Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission, said in a statement.

Some migrants are sent on to detention centres elsewhere in western Libya nominally under the control of the Tripoli government.

IOM officials say those centres, housing some 5,000 migrants, risk being overwhelmed by new arrivals. Conditions are often dire and abuse widespread.

“Alternatives to detention must be found for migrants in Libya. In the meantime, IOM continues to provide direct humanitarian, health and psycho-social assistance to meet urgent needs of affected migrants,” Belbeisi said.

Local sources said an estimated 10,000 migrants were being held in the Sabratha area.

The head of Sabratha’s department for countering illegal migration told Reuters help was urgently needed as some migrants had no food or water for six days.



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