Detained migrants evacuated as fighting reaches Tripoli

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The United Nations refugee agency evacuated 325 African refugees from Qasr Ben Gashir detention centre in southern Tripoli because of deteriorating security and escalating violence.

The refugees – mainly Eritrean, Sudanese and Nigerian – were taken to a detention centre in Zawiya, west of the Libyan capital, where they are at “reduced risk”, the UNHCR said in a statement.

The latest evacuation, which followed a protest and violence at the facility on Tuesday that left 12 injured inmates needing hospital care, brought to 825 the number of refugees and migrants moved in the past two weeks. The agency called for the release of the remaining 3,000 still detained.

“The dangers for refugees and migrants in Tripoli have never been greater than at present,” said Matthew Brook, UNHCR deputy chief of mission in Libya. “It is vital refugees in danger be released and evacuated.”

More than 3,600 jailed migrants have been trapped in the capital since forces from the east of the country started an advance to capture it, the United Nations said.

Earlier, Libyan officials opened the doors of a detention centre for illegal migrants in Tripoli. Frightened Somalis and other sub-Saharan Africans told Reuters they decided to stay in fear of being caught up in fighting.

“We don’t want to leave. … We have no place to go,” said a 20-year-old migrant who gave his name as Daoud, in a packed warehouse where 550 migrants are held.

His pregnant wife sat with other women in another room without air conditioning, trying to endure sweltering heat.

In the quieter eastern Tajoura suburb, the manager opened the gate of his detention centre housing migrants from sub-Saharan countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Arab countries. All stayed, surviving on a meal of pasta a day. On a good day, they get two.

‘IT’S NOT ENOUGH’

Large parts of Libya have been lawless since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and the country is a main transit point for thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Officials have been accused in the past of mistreating detainees held by the thousands as part of European-backed efforts to curb smuggling.

At the Tajoura detention centre, authorities have not supplied any food or water since before fighting started last week, said Nour Eldine Qarilti, the director.

“We have not received assistance from international organisations,” he told Reuters. “Some local NGOs still support us with simple needs but it’s not enough.”

Migrants lay on mattresses, their few belongings in plastic bags or wrapped in towels. Laundry was hanging from the ceiling. Others were using a kitchen to cook lunch for a small fee.

According to the United Nations, Libya now hosts more than 700,000 people who fled their homelands, often trekking through desert in pursuit of a better life in Europe.

They try to find smugglers to put them on boats. With Italy and France helping to beef up the Libyan Coastguard, most are caught before reaching Europe.

According to December UN report, migrants and refugees in Libya suffer a “terrible litany of violations” from a combination of state officials, armed groups and traffickers. “These include unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, gang rape, slavery, forced labour and extortion,” it said.