Migrants who escaped after the Tajoura detention center airstrike, near Tripoli | Photo: ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL
Migrants who escaped after the Tajoura detention center airstrike, near Tripoli | Photo: ANSA/ZUHAIR ABUSREWIL

The Libyan government of Fayez al-Sarraj is evaluating the possibility of closing migrant detention centers in the country after an airstrike on the center in Tajoura.

After the killing of dozens of migrants at the Tajoura detention center in Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the UN-backed national unity government plans to evaluate the possibility of closing the approximately 15 structures in which about 7,000 people are being held. The development, which poses the risk that thousands of desperate migrants could arrive on Italian shores, is the latest twist in the Libyan crisis. 

On Thursday, standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was on an official visit to Rome, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte appealed to Sarraj to "assume his responsibilities and do everything to avoid humanitarian crises from erupting." Rome and Moscow support the role of the UN and share the call for "working to find a rapid ceasefire" followed by a "return to the negotiating table", Conte said. Russia said if the fighting doesn't stop, the civil war in Libya could escalate on an even larger scale. 

Closures 'to protect migrants' lives' 

Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha announced in Tripoli that the Sarraj government "is currently considering the closure of the centers and the release of illegal migrants to protect their lives and their safety." The reason given was the airstrike late Tuesday evening on the Tajoura center, which the Libyan Justice Ministry said left more than 60 dead and about 77 wounded. 

Bashagha also cited the fact that reception centers are being targeted by F16 aircraft without any antiaircraft system to stop them. He did not specify whether the consideration to close centers was aimed only at Tripoli, where centers are in the midst of ongoing combat, or also other areas of the country. 

Between 12 to 18 centers in Libya 

According to the most recent reliable figures, there are about 12 to 18 migrant detention centers in Libya. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that about 5,800 people are currently being held, but other sources cite figures between six and seven thousand migrants. UNHCR said more than 3,300 are being held in Tripoli and therefore exposed to combat that has been taking place since April 4 when General Haftar's forces began to engage with government forces for control of the Libyan capital. 

Haftar spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) "is ready to cooperate and facilitate an immediate exit" of migrants from the centers. Mismari said the Sarraj government uses migrants as human shields by placing them near military targets to discredit the LNA, such as in the case of Tajoura. To back this claim, Mismari cited a UN report that said center guards shot at some migrants who were fleeing after the airstrike.

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