Migrants remained locked in and were later shot at by guards as a bomb blast hit the Tripoli detention center where they were being held on Wednesday morning. Survivors of the deadly airstrike, which has provoked an international outcry, are pleading for help from the UN.
The attack on the Tajoura center in the
early hours of Wednesday killed at least 53 people and seriously
injured more than 130 others. Bodies are still being recovered from the rubble. 26-year-old Moroccan
Al-Mahdi Hafyan survived the bombing with a leg injury. From his
hospital bed in Tripoli, Hafyan told reporters from the AFP news
agency that afterwards he had seen "bodies, blood and pieces of
Hafyan had been in the detention center for three months. He and another Moroccan had come to Libya in the hope of reaching Europe by crossing the Mediterranean. His friend survived the attack without injury, but his t-shirt was stained with other people's blood. "We were lucky. We were at the back of the hangar," he told AFP.
Another survivor, Abdelaziz Hussein, from Sudan's Darfur region, described what he had seen as "horrific: The corpses, the dismembered bodies, the wounded who were bleeding. There was blood everywhere."
Othman Muser, a detainee from Nigeria, said people who had been injured "died on the road," while others were crushed in the strike.
Unable to escape
The Tajoura detention center, now mostly a charred ruin, contained five hangars, where around 600 migrants and refugees were sleeping when the first of two strikes hit a nearby building. "We were scared. We wanted to leave but the doors were closed," said Abdelaziz Hussein.
"A quarter of an hour later, the second strike directly hit hangar three. I was in number five. It's then that they [guards] opened the doors for us," he added.
Hussein lost nine Sudanese friends in the air strike, all of whom had fled the conflict in Darfur.
The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday that it had information that Libyan guards shot at migrants as they were trying to get away. "There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards as they tried to escape," the OCHA said.
The blast left a crater around three meters in diameter. Fragments of clothes, shoes and debris ripped from the metal structure were strewn around it after the attack. Because of the heat, human remains in one of the hangers were attracting flies, according to AFP.
Hours after the strike, the agency reported that Hussein and some of the other survivors were "visibly in shock." They collected their bags and blankets and decided to stay outside. "We are constantly in danger," Hussein said.
The suburb of Tajoura, which has a number of military sites, is regularly targeted in air raids. In May, an attack injured several migrants at the center. The UNHCR had previously called for migrants to be transferred from the site.
The refugee agency says as many as 3,300 migrants and refugees remain in detention centers in and around Tripoli in "inhumane conditions." It has called for all of the centers to be closed.
Libya's internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has blamed Wednesday's attack on commander Khalifa Haftar. In April, Haftar launched an offensive to capture the capital Tripoli, resulting in the deaths of more than 780 people so far. A spokesperson for Haftar's Libyan National Army said the detention center had not been the target of the strike.
'We want the UN to help us'
Radhouan Abdallah, a survivor from Wednesday's attack, told AFP he was worried about his future. The 17-year-old said he had been taken to five different migrant centers since first being detained in western Libya in October 2017.
"I'm still waiting for the UNHCR to find a solution for me. Even if I leave here, I have no place to go," he said. "Outside, I risk being detained again, tortured or killed."
"All we know is that we want the UN to help people out of this place, because this place is dangerous," said Othman Muser. "We don't have any power to do anything."
Meanwhile in the hospital in Tripoli, Hafyan also said he was afraid of having to return to a detention center. "We want to get out of here, if not we will be imprisoned again. We want to go home."
There are still several hundred people being detained in Tajoura. Four Nigerians were expected to be released to the Nigerian embassy on Thursday. 31 women and children were also to be transferred to the UNHCR departure facility in Tripoli, the Reuters news agency said.