Migrants crammed into a cell at Zintan detention centre in Libya (file photo, June 2019) | Credit: Private
Migrants crammed into a cell at Zintan detention centre in Libya (file photo, June 2019) | Credit: Private

A young Eritrean migrant was killed in a recent fire that ravaged part of the Zintan detention center in Libya. The cause of the fire is unknown, but migrants there fear further incidents as conditions in the center are poor and cells are overcrowded.

A 24-year-old migrant died in a fire that destroyed parts of the Zintan detention center which located 182 km southwest of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, The Irish Times reported on March 2. The fire broke out overnight on February 29, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

"One Eritrean migrant died tragically in the fire, others were slightly injured. An IOM team was sent to the scene on Sunday morning, as soon as we were alerted, to provide medical care," said Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the UN agency.

The fire started "in one of the warehouses of the detention centre" Msehli said, where about 50 people were being held. Much of the warehouse was damaged, as well as the few personal belongings the migrants who were sleeping there, Msehli added.

"We still don't know how the fire started because everyone was asleep," said an Eritrean who was in contact with a journalist from The Irish Times via Facebook. "The flames and smoke spread rapidly without our being able to control them."

The IOM confirmed that witnesses interviewed by its teams reported that it had been very dark in the warehouse and that they were blinded by the smoke.

'Traumatized' and 'worried' migrants

"For the time being, all the migrants remain in the detention center," the IOM indicated, noting that the facilities are overcrowded and that access to hygiene and basic services is poor.

According to another Eritrean witness quoted by The Irish Times, migrants are "traumatized" and "very worried" that there will be another similar incident in a detention centre, which they describe as lawless zones. Migrants are arbitrarily detained in them for periods ranging from a few months to several years.

A fire broke out in Zintan in December, causing property damage and some smoke poisoning.

Since 2017, the European Union has had an agreement with the Libyan coastguard to intercept and return migrants who set sail in the hope of reaching Europe. Once intercepted, they are automatically returned to detention centres. Very few manage to escape.

In the first two days of March, 224 migrants were intercepted and brought back to Libya by the coastguard, according to the IOM. More than 2,000 migrants have met the same fate since the beginning of the year.


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