Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Migrant centre hit in Libya was next to arms depot, report

Migrants allege they were forced to work for militias and clean their weapons

A migrant picks up her belongings from the rubble at the Tajoura detention centre. Reuters
A migrant picks up her belongings from the rubble at the Tajoura detention centre. Reuters

More than 50 migrants who were killed by an airstrike on a Libyan detention facility were being detained less than 100 metres from a weapons depot controlled by forces allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

An investigation by The New York Times found that the centre in the eastern suburb of Tajoura was located in a military compound that had anti-aircraft guns on display. The report, which included interviews with some of the nearly 600 people held at the facility, also heard claims that migrants were forced to work for the Libyan militia and clean their weapons.

The airstrike, which injured at least 130, has been blamed on the forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army launched an offensive on Tripoli in April in an effort to wrest control from extremists and militias they say run the capital. The LNA has denied hitting the site.

Footage of the attack showed two airstrikes 11 minutes apart. The first hit the arms depot, leading to the migrants trying to flee. They were, however, stopped by guards at the centre who were accused of shooting at those trying to escape, according to one migrant. The second strike then hit the centre directly.

Migrant centres in western Libya, in theory, are under the remit of the UN-backed and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. But in reality, they are run by the array of armed groups. Some of the most notorious militiaman, including those sanctioned for their role in trafficking migrants, are fighting against Field Marshal Haftar’s units.

Aid workers and rights groups say abuse including beating and forced labour is rife, and have long appealed for their closure.

The centres have continued to operate, repeatedly caught in the crossfire of fighting whilst receiving new arrivals from boats intercepted by Libya’s EU-backed coastguard.

The incident in July has been particularly controversial because the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR had called in May for refugees and migrants detained in the Tajoura centre to be evacuated when airstrike landed less than 100 metres from the facility.

Last week, migrants held at the centre at the time of last month’s strikes were allowed to leave the detention centre. However, Reuters reported that roughly 95 other migrants were then moved to the Tajoura facility last Thursday, despite the repeated warnings of aid agencies.

“We reiterate once again that the coordinates of these detention centres in Tripoli are well-known to both sides of the conflict and this was a preventable tragedy that never should have happened,” the UNHCR’s Charlie Yaxley said after the attack.

The fighting has left more than 1,000 dead, including more than 100 civilians, according to the World Health Organisation.

Late on Saturday, the Libyan coastguard said 53 migrants, including 10 women and a child, were rescued off the coast of Sabratha, 43 miles west of Tripoli.

Updated: July 14, 2019 05:59 PM

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