Libyan authorities in Tripoli detain hundreds of people suspected of trying to reach Europe illegally. Photo: EPA/STR
Libyan authorities in Tripoli detain hundreds of people suspected of trying to reach Europe illegally. Photo: EPA/STR

UN refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday it has relocated 150 refugees held at a detention center in Libya, after transferring another group of refugees last week. The UN agency stressed in a statement that Libya is dangerous and migrants apprehended at sea should not be taken back to the country. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has also raised the alarm.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has relocated another 150 refugees who were held in the Abu Selim detention center in southern Tripoli to UNHCR's Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the center of Libya's capital, safe from hostilities. The organization said in a statement that the Abu Selim center is one of several in Libya affected by clashes that erupted in the capital nearly two weeks ago. Refugees told UNHCR that they were terrified by the fighting and feared for their lives. 

UNHCR witnesses ongoing clashes in Tripoli 

UNHCR staff who were present during the relocation on April 16 reported that clashes were around 10 kilometers away from the center and were clearly audible. Minors and women were among the vulnerable refugees who were evacuated. The relocation was carried out with the support of the International Medical Corps, a partner of the UN agency, and the Libyan interior ministry. 

The relocation on Tuesday is the second UNHCR-organized transfer since the recent escalation of the conflict in Libya. Last week, UNHCR relocated over 150 refugees from the Ain Zara detention center also in south Tripoli to the GDF. 

After the relocation on Tuesday, over 2,700 refugees and migrants are still detained and trapped in areas where clashes are ongoing. 

Mogherini, migrants in camps at risk 

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said that Libyans are suffering due to the ongoing clashes and "migrants and refugees in detention centers are at risk." Mogherini said she is working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR to "evacuate them" and take them from Libya to "safer areas, including more secure regions in the rest of the country." 

"Dozens of migrants have left Libya voluntarily days ago to return to their country, however, conditions on the ground are deteriorating and for this reason, we are asking sides to allow the smooth evacuation of detention centers," she stressed. "The EU does not consider Libya a safe country," Mogherini noted. 

''I say this as well as other colleagues of the Commission and our position is unchanged and evident given the current circumstances'', added Mogherini. Speaking about the EU's anti-human trafficking Sophia naval mission, Mogherini said her suggestion to member States "was not to withdraw naval forces." 

"I have always said that naval forces should have remained in international waters because they have proven to be an excellent deterrent against traffickers'', she said.

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