Eritrean migrants face tuberculosis in Libyan detention centres

Thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean in a bid to reach Europe have been returned to unsanitary and overcrowded Libyan detention centres which are rife with tuberculosis.

Sam, a 30-year old Eritrean migrant, is one of thousands who is currently detained in Libya, where conditions have been described by humanitarian groups as inhuman and squalid. He shares a room with more than 1,000 other migrants, some of whom tested positive for tuberculosis a few days after their arrival in the centre.  Sam was originally given the all-clear and focused on helping others who had been infected with the disease. However, after a few months he started to feel weak. He said, “After some months I was not okay. I went to check with the doctors and they said I had TB.” 

In these detention centres migrants are locked in the same room with people who have been infected by tuberculosis and forced to use the same buckets or plastic bottles for toilets and left with little food and medicine. Many detainees are also too weak and undernourished to tolerate the side effects of any medication.

Dr. Prince Alfani, a medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Libya said: “We receive reports from detainees that they discontinue medication because they don’t have anything to eat. We think it’s not appropriate to provide a detainee an antibiotic while he’s hungry.”

Another Eritrean migrant who had been held for almost a year in a Libyan detention centre said, “There are many cases of TB. No doctor. They’re playing games with us.” He added that the detainees only have access to water for half an hour each morning and have to share eight toilets with around 650 detainees.

A refugee in another detention centre in Libya also said that at least 10 detainees have died since mid-September, partly due to the lack of sanitation and adequate medical care.

Many detainees have been protesting against the dire conditions in Libyan detention centres. As a result, many have faced violence at the hands of the Libyan guards. In protest against the conditions under which they are being held, nearly 150 male detainees escaped the Triq al Sikka detention centre in Tripoli in early March of this year.  Around 30 refugees and migrants were tortured for breaking out of the detention centre and holding a protest.

According to the Libyan coastguard, over 15, 000 migrants were intercepted or rescued in the Mediterranean sea in 2018 and brought back to Libya.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that there are over 600,000 migrants in Libya, many of whom face violence and abuse. Around 20, 000 refugees and migrants are currently being held in detention centres in Libya.

TMP: 05/04/2019


Photo caption: Migrants held in a Libyan detention centre