Libyan guards reportedly shoot at fleeing migrants

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The United Nations said it had information Libyan guards shot at refugees and migrants fleeing air strikes that killed at least 53 people, including six children, in a migrant detention centre.

A report from the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there were two air strikes on Tuesday, one hitting an unoccupied garage and one hitting a hangar housing around 120 refugees and migrants.

“There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired on by guards as they tried to escape,” the OCHA report said.

Bodies were still being recovered from the rubble, the report said, suggesting the death toll could rise.

There are about 500 people at the detention centre at Tajoura, east of Tripoli, with four Nigerians set for release to the Nigerian embassy and a plan for 31 women and children to be sent to the UN refugee agency’s departures facility in Tripoli.

There was no comment from Libyan officials on the OCHA report.

Interior Minister Fathi Ali Bashagha said the Tripoli government was considering closing all detention centres for migrants and releasing inmates. Thousands are held in centres in Tripoli.

The 53 dead was the highest publicly reported toll from an air strike or shelling since eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched a ground and aerial offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya’s internationally recognised government.

“The number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict almost doubled as the result of this single attack,” the OCHA report said, a day after UN officials said the air strikes may constitute a war crime.

The United Nations repeatedly said Libya is not a safe place for rescued migrants to be returned to and called for refugees and migrants to be released and given safe shelter.

It has declined to directly criticise Italy for shutting its doors but said European states must help to resolve the conflict in Libya to stop perilous sea journeys.

The centre is close to a military base and an air strike on nearby Libyan government forces on May 7 injured two people in the centre. Despite the risks, Libyan authorities continued to transfer migrants and refugees to the centre, according to the UN report.