A detention center in Tripoli | Photo: Imago/Florian Gaertner
A detention center in Tripoli | Photo: Imago/Florian Gaertner

The UN migration agency, the IOM, has condemned violence against migrants in a detention center in the Libyan capital. The agency also demanded access to the migrants who were removed from the Trig al-Sikka facility after a protest last week.

At least fifty people, including some guards, were injured when police intervened in last Tuesday’s protest by detainees at the detention facility in Tripoli. IOM medical staff provided medical support and treatment on site to those who had been injured. Two people were seriously injured and were taken to hospital.

Witnesses told the Al Jazeera news agency that Libyan guards had surrounded the refugees and migrants and beaten them with sticks and metal bars. Some people were subsequently taken to an underground cell, the report said.

Following the protests, around 120 people were transferred from the Sikka facility to Ain Zara and Sabhaa detention centers, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Both the IOM and UNHCR have since been denied access to them.

The UNHCR said it was able to access the Sikka facility on Sunday, "solely for purposes of transferring some individuals to a Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) for evacuation out of Libya". The GDF was set up in December to speed up processing and as an alternative to detention.

'Dire conditions'

At the time of the protest, there were an estimated 400 asylum seekers in the detention center. They included Eritreans, Somalis, Ethiopians and Sudanese nationals, according to UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo.

The protest was driven by frustration and anxiety, as well as "extremely dire detention conditions and lack of solutions," Mantoo said.

Migrants who have been held in the Sikka detention center in the past have said that they were kept in the dark, abused and given little food and medical aid. Last October, a Somali man burned himself to death in the center after saying he had lost hope of being evacuated to a safe country.

The IOM's Director of Operations and Emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker, said there could be no justification for violence against migrants, regardless of the circumstances that had led to Tuesday's protest.

"We condemn the use of violence in detention, and ask for urgent access to individuals who have been removed from that detention centre," Abdiker said.

Limited access

Denied access to unofficial detention centers in Libya, the IOM is limited to providing basic services within those centers controlled by the government. There are about 5,700 refugees and migrants in detention in Libya, according to the UNHCR. 4,100 are assessed as being "of concern" to UNHCR and may have international protection needs, Mantoo said.

The United Nations has described detention conditions throughout the country as a matter of "grave concern" and it continues to urge Libyan authorities to stop detaining migrants.

"Placing migrants in detention for irregular entry adds to their many vulnerabilities," the IOM’s Abdiker said. "The situation is particularly difficult for women and children."
The IOM is also continuing to repatriate migrants from Libyan detention centers to their countries of origin. Since 2015, it has brought home more than 40,000 people from Libya, including those held in official detention centers, to more than 30 countries.

Libya has become a major African transit point for people trying to reach Europe, especially from sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of migrants held in detention in the country are subject to abuse, including rape and torture, extortion, forced labor, and slavery. Detention centers are overcrowded and detainees often lack sufficient food, water and medical care.


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