Number of migrants in Libya’s detention centres doubles

The UN migration agency has reported that the number of migrants in Libya’s overcrowded detention centres has almost doubled over the past three months.

As Italy and Libya block smuggler’s boats from reaching European shores, the number of people intercepted at sea and held in detention centres has increased from 5,000 to 9,300. So far in 2018, 11,980 migrants have been returned to Libyan shores after being intercepted while attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean.

The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Libya spokeswoman Christine Petré said that “20 detention centres are operational” after “Libyan authorities closed several recently.” Previous reports spoke of approximately 34-35 centres, while some estimates put the number as high as 42. “The majority of these centres are in the capital, Tripoli,” Petré  added.

“Migrants are mainly taken to some five detention centres” that will become “excessively overcrowded,” Petré said. According to Petré, the humanitarian conditions are likely to worsen “you can imagine now that there is a heat wave in Tripoli with temperatures of 35-40 degrees.”

While addressing why there has been a dramatic increase in migrants trapped in Libyan detention centres, IOM’s Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi said smuggling networks are “becoming more organised and stronger,” and that “less people travelling to Europe or taking boats does not mean that there are less migrants. It means the opposite. They are stranded.”

The IOM estimates that there are currently 662,000 migrants in Libya, an increase of roughly 40,000 from last year. One tenth of all the migrants presently in Libya are minors, more than half of whom are unaccompanied.

According to the IOM, the overall number of migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea this year totals 50,872 so far, less than half the 109,746 who came in by mid-July last year. During the same period in 2016, 241,859 migrants came to Europe.

“There is an alarming increase in deaths at sea off Libya’s Coast,” Belbeisi said. “Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe,” Belbeisi added.

With 3,136 Mediterranean arrivals, June 2018 has seen the lowest recorded number of monthly migrant arrivals to Italy since 2014. While migrant arrivals to Italy have decreased drastically, June was still the deadliest month in four years for migrants following the route to Europe. Some 564 migrants have been reported dead or missing in month of June alone.

TMP – 10/08/2018

Photo credit: IOM. Photo caption: Rescued migrants being tended to by IOM staff in Tripoli.