Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Detention centre opened but migrants too frightened to leave as war reaches Tripoli

Libyan war's most vulnerable say they are not going anywhere

Migrants at Tajora shelter centre feel unsafe to leave. Reuters
Migrants at Tajora shelter centre feel unsafe to leave. Reuters

Libyan officials have opened the doors of a detention centre for illegal migrants in Tripoli, but frightened Somalis and other sub-Saharan Africans said they would stay for fear of being caught in fighting.

"We don't want to leave," said Daoud, 20. "We have no place to go."

Daoud sits on a mattress in a warehouse where 550 migrants have been held. His pregnant wife sits in a different room.

More than 3,600 jailed migrants have been trapped in the capital since forces from the east of the country started an advance to capture it, the UN says.

On Tuesday, a dozen migrants were wounded when unknown gunmen opened fire on them in a detention centre in a suburb fought over by both sides, a spokesman for the UN Higher Commission for Refugees said.

The injured migrants are being treated in a hospital and Amnesty International called for the attack to be investigated as a war crime.

In the quieter eastern Tajoura suburb, the manager opened the gate of his detention centre housing migrants from sub-Saharan countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and some Arab countries.

Everyone stayed, surviving on one meal of pasta a day. On a good day they get two.

Large parts of Libya have been lawless since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The country has become the main transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East attempting the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Officials have been accused of mistreating detainees, who are held in their thousands as part of European-backed efforts to curb human smuggling.

At the Tajoura detention centre, authorities have not supplied any food or water since before fthe ighting started last week, director Nour Qarilti said.

"We have not received any assistance from all international organisations," Mr Qarilti said. "Some local NGOs still support us with simple needs but it's not enough."

Hundreds of migrants lay on mattresses. Others use a kitchen to cook lunch for others for a small fee.

The UN says Libya now hosts more than 700,000 people who have fled their homelands, often trekking through desert to pursue their dreams of a better life in Europe.

They then try to find smugglers to put them on boats. But with Italy and France helping to strengthen the Libyan coastguard, most are caught before reaching Europe.

Updated: April 25, 2019 01:18 AM

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