Detained migrants trapped as war closes in on Tripoli

Thousands of migrants trapped in detention centres in the Libyan capital could face greater danger as war between rival sides closes on the city.

Dozens have been killed and hundreds wounded after more than a week of fighting between General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army and the UN recognised government based in Tripoli. At least 75 people have been killed and 323 wounded including civilians, the UN reported on news agency Reuters.

According to the UN, there are more than 6,000 migrants in detention in Libya, including more than 600 children, many of whom are from Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan. Migrants are detained in overcrowded warehouses, hangars and prisons and guarded by armed groups belonging to various militias.

Al Jazeera reported that detained migrants have been left without food or water, including hundreds in the middle of an active conflict zone.  “We can see the military,” a man in Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre told the news agency. “The food store is empty,” he said. “The war is still continuing. Even the electricity and water supply stopped.”

“Maybe they’ll take us to sell us,” said another man speaking to Al jazeera. “All people are crazy. We’re in a bad situation now, but we don’t know where we can go. All the people want to run away from here. We are very stressed now. Already our mind is losing hope.”

At the Ain Zara detention centre, southeast of Tripoli, a detainee said most of the guards in charge of them had left and food had run out. 

“They can hear the clashes. And many are really scared,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said of the migrants.

The UN refugee agency reported taking more than 150 Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Syrian refugees from the Ain Zara detention centre on 9 April 2019 to its own nearby facility.

A manager at the centre told Reuters he opened the doors on 10 April 2019 to let another 150 migrants into the streets. “I let them go for their safety,” he said.

An estimated 700,000 migrants are currently in Libya, many looking to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. In the absence of rescue ships, migrant boats are regularly intercepted or rescued by the Libyan coastguard. Last year, the Libyan coastguard intercepted and returned around 15,000 migrants as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. So far in 2019, the Libyan coastguard has returned an additional 1,073 migrants.

TMP – 19/04/2019

Photo credit: Sara Creta/MSF

Photo caption: A survivor from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean looks out between the bars of his cell in a detention centre in Khoms, Libya, September 2018.