About 800 migrants in a government-run centre in western Libya are being detained in worsening conditions without sufficient food or water, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said.
Many of them have been trapped for more than five months in the Zuwara centre, west of Tripoli, where some arrived malnourished after being held by smuggling networks, MSF said in a statement.
“The situation is critical,” said MSF emergency programme manager Karline Kleijer.
The centre is one of several nominally run by the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. They house migrants who are rounded up on the streets or intercepted by Libya’s EU-backed coastguard as they try to leave for Italy by boat.
The centres hold only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of migrants in Libya. Most live in communities or are held by smuggling networks.
Many detention centres have closed in recent months as migrants are repatriated under a voluntary returns programme run by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) or through bilateral flights.
Activists say conditions for migrants in Libya that were already dire may have deteriorated further since last summer, when numbers reaching Europe dropped sharply following an Italian-led push to cut off crossings. Some are held for longer by smugglers who use torture to extort money from migrants’ families, they say.
Zuwara was a major smuggling hub before a local backlash against smugglers in 2015. Recently, boat departures from the city have picked up again, aid workers say.
More than 500 people were detained in the city in the past 15 days, according to MSF.
The UN refugee agency airlifted 88 migrants from Zuwara to another detention centre in Tripoli on May 1 in order to identify the most vulnerable cases for evacuation.
Libyan authorities transferred some migrants in an effort to reduce overcrowding at the Zuwara centre and IOM has begun a process to repatriate others.
“There is no solution in sight for many of the estimated 800 who remain in the detention centre in Zuwara,” MSF said.
“We strongly urge all international agencies with a presence in Libya, representatives from the countries of origin and Libyan authorities to find a solution for these people over the next few days,” said Kleijer.