An armed group in Libya is reported to have kidnapped 60 migrants — including two dozen children — about two weeks ago. They are holding them hostage in "appalling living conditions," according to the latest statement from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The Associated Press (AP) news agency quote MSF as saying that masked militiamen abducted the migrants on September 28 from the town of al-Ajaylat, which is located about 80 kilometers west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
In a statement, MSF said that the armed group initially took around 350 migrants hostage, adding that most of them managed to escape while some others were released. The migrants were reported to mainly originate from West African countries.
A shooting reportedly broke out following an attempted escape on October 2, and at least three people were killed in the melee.
'Appalling living conditions'
MSF said it had been notified by the Libyan government’s agency for combatting illegal migration two days after the abduction, and that later it had a chance to visit the warehouse where the migrants were being held hostage. MSF reported that "women, children, and men [were] sleeping on the ground in appalling living conditions without access to water, showers, or toilets."
MSF medics were only allowed to consult with women and children among the captive migrants, and were not allowed to treat men. It is assumed that the militia are likely seeking ransom from family members of the abducted migrants, or might be trying to sell them to other human traffickers.
AP reported that the militia had stolen valuables from the migrants as well as their ID papers before taking them to a warehouse in the nearby coastal city of Sabratha. The city of Sabratha has long been the chief departure point for migrants who attempt to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, according to MSF.
All Quiet on the Libyan Front
AP reported that the government spokesman for the Tripoli-based interior ministry did not answer phone calls and messages seeking comment on the developments. Locals who shared information about the abduction only did so on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Guillaume Baret, MSF's head of mission in Libya, shared several tweets corroborating the reports but did not comment directly on the developing situation either.
A delicate situation
The Associated Press meanwhile stipulated that the armed men belonged to the Al-Ammu militia, which, in 2017, the UN identified as the main facilitators of people smuggling in Libya. MSF, however, told InfoMigrants that it did not know who the armed men holding the hostage were associated with.
Al-Ammu and another local militia group, known as the Brigade 48, are headed by two criminal brothers from the powerful al-Dabashi family. Both militias, however, are affiliated with the internationally recognized, UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli as opposed to many other local militias that back rival groups trying to take control over Libya.
Libya has become the major transit point for African and Arab migrants heading to Europe, after the North African country collapsed into a bloody civil war - now in its 10th year - following the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.