A child sits on a mattress laid on the floor of the women's section of the Al-Nasr detention center in Zawiya, Libya | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF
A child sits on a mattress laid on the floor of the women's section of the Al-Nasr detention center in Zawiya, Libya | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has urged Libya to release more than 200 migrant children who have recently been intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and returned to Libya.

The New York-based international organization said that most of the affected children were African nationals between 12 and 15 years of age, adding that some of them were still infants. 

More than 50 of the children were reported to be particularly vulnerable because of disabilities or because their parents or caregivers might be sick and unable to look after them. The IRC said that over a quarter of them were unaccompanied minors.

The IRC added that in addition to this, the children are faced with the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of violence and abuse at Libyan detention centers. 

"Every day, they know they could be abducted, detained and held for ransom. Every day, they struggle to earn a living to make ends meet," said Tom Garofalo, director of the International Rescue Committee in Libya.

Violence against migrants in Libya is on the rise: On Monday, Libyan authorities shot and killed three Sudanese migrants in the western town of Khoms who had attempted to escape a detention facility after they had been returned to shore. 15 of the children whose release the IRC is currently demanding were reported to have witnessed the event.

Read more: Save the Children says repatriations to Libya 'unacceptable'A baby born in Libya and her Nigerian mother  Photo Sam Olukoya restricted useRise in East African migrants, including children

The majority of the children currently held in Libyan detention centers were reported to be Somalian, Eritrean and Sudanese citizens. 

There is no single reason why people from the Horn of Africa are presently among the highest numbers of migrants on the continent. However, the current locust outbreak in the region is resulting in famine and malnutrition throughout East Africa, said the president of the IRC, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

"A tiny swarm of these locusts can consume the same amount of food as 35,000 people in one day," he said in a video statement.A child walks past mattresses laid on the floor in the womens section of the Al-Nasr detention centre in Zawiya Libya  Photo ANSAUNICEFNo safe place for migrants

Libya has long become the main transit point for African migrants trying to reach Europe since the 2011 uprising in the country that resulted in the toppling of longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Ghaddafi.

Many of the migrants attempting to reach European shores in ill-equipped rubber dinghies are intercepted by Libya’s coast guard and returned to overcrowded detention centers in the conflict-stricken country, where they are often left at the mercy of brutal armed groups.

Read more: Pope Francis compares Libyan camps to concentration camps

Rights groups have been highlighting for years that in those facilities, migrants lack access to adequate food and water, are confined in small quarters and suffer abuse including torture, rape and slavery.

"Absolutely no one should be detained in Libya’s detention centres -- least of all a child," the IRC's Garofalo added. 

More than 20,000 migrants meanwhile have died since 2014 trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the UN migration agency.

Read more: Death and atrocities constant companions for migrants on African land routes, report

With AP


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