Tripoli migrants seek refuge with the UN


Migrants were released from a detention centre in Tripoli as heavy gunfire rang out across the city, witnesses and the United Nations said.

At least 200 migrants made their way to a centre for processing resettlement cases set up in Tripoli by UN refugee agency UNHCR, seeking access, the agency said.

Reuters reporters saw migrants near the centre surrounded by guards, about two hours after residents started posting photos of migrants walking the streets.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), another UN agency, said 600 were released from the Abu Slim centre. “Their safety is a major concern as armed clashes continue in Tripoli,” it said.

Tripoli has been hit by renewed violence since April, when the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) started battling forces aligned with the internationally recognised Tripoli government for control of the capital.

Migrants have been repeatedly caught in crossfire during clashes. Abu Slim is in the south of the capital, near the front lines. Heavy artillery fire could be heard from the city centre on Tuesday.

It was unclear why the migrants were released or where they could be transferred. Officials could not be reached and journalists were not allowed to speak to the migrants.

Several thousand migrants are in detention centres officially run by the Tripoli government. In practice, the centres are controlled by armed groups and there is widespread abuse, according to migrants, aid workers and rights defenders.

Libya, with an estimated migrant population of 640 000, is a main departure points for migrants trying to reach Europe. Boatloads of migrants leave from Libya’s north-western coast, though the number attempting the crossing has dropped sharply since mid-2017.

Several detention centres have closed following international pressure and migrants intercepted at sea by Libya’s EU-backed coastguard released rather than going to detention centres.

The UNHCR centre, known as the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), has been plagued by problems since it opened late last year.

More than half the 880 migrants at the GDF entered “informally”, some after fleeing another Tripoli detention centre hit by an air strike, UNHCR Special Envoy Vincent Cochetel told Reuters.

“Recently, the GDF has been severely over-capacity, leaving us unable to utilise it for its original purpose of evacuating people from harm’s way,” he said.