Eritrean migrants held in dire conditions in Libyan detention centres

More than 650 refugees and migrants, including over 430 Eritreans, are being held in dire conditions in Zintan detention centre in Libya without adequate access to food and water, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR.

“The conditions at Zintan Detention Centre amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture,” OHCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville stated on 7 June during a press briefing in Geneva. 

Many of the detainees are severely malnourished and locked in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Since last September, 22 migrants, including a large number of Eritreans, have died from tuberculosis and other preventable illnesses due to the lack of access to medical care, according to OHCHR. 

Some Eritreans detained in the centre have spoken to several media outlets and aid organisations about the dire situation in Libya.

“A lot of people are dead within a short period. Even we are near death,” one Eritrean detainee told Al Jazeera. “We are the victims, we need a safe life, and we need our rights. For us, it is a black history. We are scared, we are suffering emotionally, psychologically.”

Another Eritrean told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “We have no room to move. We don’t do anything all day long and we talk less too. People simply pray, sleep and stare into space. That’s it. Some people have gone insane from doing nothing. They can’t sleep and start talking to themselves and going berserk. We need to tie their hands and feet.”

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville also expressed concern over reports of migrants who have disappeared or been sold ‘to smugglers promising transit to Europe’. Colville said there is a huge difference between the number of migrants who have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libyan detention centres and the actual numbers in these centres.

“The Libyan Coast Guard reported it had delivered hundreds to a facility in Al-Khoms, which is under the oversight of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). Of this number, more than 200 were delivered there on 23 May, but the Al-Khoms facility reported that it now has only 30 migrants present, despite 203 been taken there just a couple of weeks ago,” said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville.

Aid has been hampered due to the ongoing clashes in Libya,  So far, UNHCR has only been able to secure the release of some 96 migrants from Zintan detention centre. However, there are still some 3,400 migrants and refugees detained in Tripoli. 

TMP – 24/06/2019

Photo credit: Tom Westcott/ IRIN

Photo caption: Eritrean migrants held at a Libyan detention centre