Debris from the Tajoura detention center airstrike on July 3, 2019  | Photo: Hazem Turkia/picture-alliance
Debris from the Tajoura detention center airstrike on July 3, 2019 | Photo: Hazem Turkia/picture-alliance

A controversial migrant detention center in Libya has reopened two weeks after an airstrike killed more than 50 people there. The United Nations had called for the compound located close to the front-lines of the country's civil war to be emptied.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Tajoura detention center in Tripoli is currently holding around 200 migrants again – after suffering heavy damage on July 3 during an airstrike. The facility had been emptied after at least 53 migrants were killed that day.

The new arrivals at the detention center include migrants intercepted at sea by Libyan coast guard forces as well as migrants transferred to Tajoura from other overcrowded detention centers.

Some of the 200 migrants currently held there had actually fled Tajoura after the bombing but were later recaptured in the streets of the city.

Forced labor next to detention center

Two men held at Tajoura told the Associated Press (AP) that they had been forced to clean and repair weapons at a nearby weapons workshop used in the civil war between Libya's official government (which is backed by the United Nations) and forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with another government in the east of the country.

Another migrant meanwhile told AP that the weapons workshop was up and running again. In a warning published in May about the Tajoura detention center, the UN said it feared that such migrant facilities were being used to store weapons, effectively turning migrants into human shields. The UN added that both sides in the civil war had the coordinates for the detention centers, implying that they could be used as deliberate targets in the conflict. 

The airstrike left the detention center at Tajoura, Tripoli, in ruins, July 3, 2019 / Photo: Hazem Turkia/picture-alliance

Haftar's forces did comment that they were targeting a nearby military site, and not the Tajoura detention center itself. It is unclear whether this was a reference to the weapons workshop.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, two government officials of the Tripoli-based government meanwhile corroborated the migrants' account, saying that the weapons facility was indeed operational again.

Deplorable conditions at Tajoura and elsewhere

UNHCR and international aid group Doctors Without Border (MSF) have called for the total shutdown of migrant detention centers in Libya, which, however, indirectly are part of the European Union's efforts to control migration across the Mediterranean.

The EU has spent hundreds of millions of euros in Libya, equipping and training Libya's coast guard forces to intercept migrants at sea and return them to the mainland. These EU funds are also used to house the migrants at detention centers, where there have been multiple reports of neglect, violence, sexual abuse, torture, forced labor and slavery.

The EU, however, says that its funding goes primarily towards efforts to improve the deplorable conditions of the detention centers.

Injured migrants from the detention center in Tajoura, near Tripoli, which was hit by an airstrike on July 2 | PHOTO:ANSA/Zuhair Abusrewil

Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha entertained the idea of closing migrant detention centers earlier in the month, saying that the migrants held there should be released for their own safety, but other government officials meanwhile stated that more migrants have been arriving at the Tajoura facility only a week after the airstrike, and that even more were expect to get there in coming days.


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