The migrant detention centre in Zawiya, 30 km from Tripoli | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL
The migrant detention centre in Zawiya, 30 km from Tripoli | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL

More than 20 migrants died of hunger and thirst after hundreds were held for months in a hangar filled with worms, rubbish and excrement in the western Libyan desert. The survivors and their attorneys accuse UN humanitarian agencies of having "turned a blind eye" to what was happening and having "responded too late" to calls for help. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, denies the accusations.

Twenty-two migrants died in the western Libyan desert after being held for months in a hangar full of worms, rubbish and excrement along with hundreds of others in punishing heat. The migrants had been left there since September and died of hunger, thirst, and illness. They weren't buried because there are no cemeteries for Christians, and their bodies were heaped together in locations with air conditioning and refrigeration. 


The survivors and their attorneys are accusing UN humanitarian agencies of having "turned a blind eye" to what was happening and having "responded too slowly". 

UNHCR denies accusations 

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, denied the accusations and said it was unable to access certain parts of the center, which was managed by one of the many Libyan militias. Witness accounts said detainees in Zintan had to divide a couple of buckets of water each day among themselves and that they barely survived on one meal a day. 

The center's manager denied that there were any obstacles to accessing the center. However, according to material obtained by the Associated Press, there was discord between UNHCR and other agencies regarding conditions at the center. 

It is estimated that there are at least 6,000 migrants being held in dozens of detention centers managed by militias accused of all types of abuse. 

Living conditions in the center 

In Zintan the migrants at the detention center who were contacted accused UNHCR of having abandoned them. A total of 700 Africans, mainly Eritreans, are held at the center. Until the beginning of June, they were being held in a hangar in which photos and videos posted online by the migrants themselves attracted media attention. They were subsequently transferred to two smaller structures, but in the same conditions. Some of the migrants were subjected to punishments and left without food and water for days. Doctors Without Borders confirmed that it found some migrants severely malnourished, some of whom had tuberculosis.
 

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