New migrants at detention centre hit in air strike

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More migrants were moved to a detention centre in Libya’s capital where an air strike killed more than 50 people despite a risk it could be hit again which led to survivors being evacuated, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.

Around 95 migrants were moved to Tajoura centre in Tripoli on Thursday, some rounded up in the local community and others transferred from another detention centre, the aid group said.

Earlier last week migrants left at the centre after the July 3 bombing – some sleeping outside in fear of another strike – were either released or evacuated, following appeals from the United Nations.

An official at the Tajoura centre who asked not to be named said following the evacuations, “we resumed work and started receiving more migrants”. He declined to give more details.

The centre was hit as forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar intensified efforts to wrest control of Tripoli from forces aligned with the internationally recognised government, based in the capital.

The fighting is the latest escalation in a conflict that developed after former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

People smugglers exploited the turmoil to send hundreds of thousands of migrants across the central Mediterranean, though the number of crossings dropped sharply from 2017 amid an EU-backed push to block departures.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on Tripoli early in April, which stalled. Fighting left more than 1,000 dead, including over 100 civilians, according to the World Health Organisation.

Migrant detention centres are nominally under government control but often controlled by armed groups. Aid workers and rights groups say abuse including beating and forced labour is rife appealed for their closure.

The centres continue to operate, repeatedly caught in the crossfire while receiving new arrivals from boats intercepted by Libya’s EU-backed coastguard. The Tajoura centre, next to a military camp, was also hit by a projectile in May.

The United Nations said it had information guards shot at migrants in Tajoura as they tried to flee the air strike. The interior ministry in Tripoli denied the report.

Last week 419 migrants, including around 90 intercepted at sea, left the Tajoura centre for a facility run by the UN refugee agency. It tries to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers from Libya, though the process is slow.

Sam Turner, MSF’s Libya head of mission, said it was an “outstanding contradiction” for migrants to be released from the centre in recognition it was not safe only for more to be brought in days later.

“The Tajoura detention centre does pose a high risk of being targeted as part of wider conflict, in addition to the risks refugees and migrants are exposed to by the conflict in general and by detention conditions,” he said.