Inside the Zintan migrant detention centre in Libya, in March, 2019. Photo: DR
Inside the Zintan migrant detention centre in Libya, in March, 2019. Photo: DR

For several days, Tripoli and its surroundings have been the scenes of violent clashes between the internationally recognized government and the self-styled Libyan National Army which has advanced on the capital. As the security situation in Libya deteriorates, food and medical supplies are quickly running out in the country’s migrant detention centers, whose detainees are growing increasingly worried for their safety.

"We have all seen the atrocious images of the detention centers in Libya. It’s a disgrace for the whole world […] With the latest events in Libya, the situation could get even worse," Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union’s Commissioner for Migration, warned in a speech held at the American think-tank Atlantic Council’s headquarters in Washington D.C. earlier this week. Avramopoulos was trying to bring attention to the many migrants currently stuck in Libyan detention centers as the country’s security crisis deepens.

Libya’s crisis worsened dramatically on April 4, when Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar - the head of the LNA - launched a flash offensive on Tripoli. Backed up by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and various Islamist groups in eastern Libya, the LNA has been pushing south in recent months in a bid to seize the capital. In the past few days, fighting has flared around the city, as the internationally recognized government holds up its defense with the help of allied militia groups from Mistrata, east of the capital.   

In the Zintan detention center, south of Tripoli, Charles* says he’s extremely worried by the current situation. The only way he’s been able to keep himself informed about what’s going on outside the center is through rumors. "There is a lot of talk about the fighting and what’s going on right now, but there’s nothing we can do. At the moment it’s calm, there are no shots being fired. But I’m really scared, there’s nothing to keep us safe here. There are women and children in here," he tells InfoMigrants.

‘We eat once a day, at best’

As if food and drinking water weren’t scarce enough in the center already, Charles says the fighting has made the situation even worse. "At the moment we eat once a day, at best. We get a tiny portion on inedible pasta covered in oil," he says.

"There are many people who are sick, people with tuberculosis. We haven’t had a doctor here for over a month and with the fighting, we’re really worried that no one is going to come here at all anymore.

"It’s difficult for the doctors and humanitarian workers to reach Zintan [170 kilometres south of Tripoli] because if the insecurity in the region. Even the Libyans in the center don’t seem to be able to move freely, they’re afraid to go outside because of the fighting."

Charles has every reason to be afraid. In July, 2018, fighting erupted by the Tariq al Matar detention center where he was being held at the time. "The Libyan police officers fled the detention center because of the insecurity and they left us locked inside. Many Eritreans, including myself, were injured. I’m afraid that they will abandon the centre again, and that the same thing happens again if the fighting reaches us." Charles’ only hope is "that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) manages to access the center to help us."

But the agency’s ability to come to their aid as the fighting rages on outside is limited, and has prompted the UN to call for "a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from areas of conflict […] refugees and migrants should be protected. We are ready to support with options offering safety as we have access," it said in a statement, adding it was "very concerned about the situation in Ain Zara & Qaser Ben Gashir detention centers" which are both located at the center of the ongoing clashes.


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