Libya is one of the main transit paths for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping to reach Europe. | Photo: Reuters
Libya is one of the main transit paths for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping to reach Europe. | Photo: Reuters

Libyan armed forces have detained more than 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of children and pregnant women, in a major raid. Meanwhile the country's coast guard intercepted and brought back hundreds of people who were trying to reach Europe.

Thousands of people have been rounded up in campaign against undocumented migrants in Libya, the United Nations says. The Associated Press (AP) said that according to figures obtained from the UN on Monday as many as 5,000 people, including hundreds of children and dozens of pregnant women, were caught up in the raids.

The crackdown began Friday in the western Libyan town of Gargaresh, a major hub for migrants in the North African nation, and spread to surrounding areas. Libyan authorities described the action as a security campaign against undocumented migration and drug trafficking. But the interior ministry, which led the crackdown, made no mention of any traffickers or smugglers having been arrested. 

According to the UN, 215 children and over 540 women, at least 30 of whom were pregnant, were rounded up.

"Unarmed migrants were harassed in their homes, beaten and shot," the UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Georgette Gagnon said in a statement. One migrant was killed and at least 15 others injured during the raids, the statement said. 

The UN migration agency IOM report obtained by AP showed that 5,152 migrants have been detained in the raids since Friday. Those numbers are likely to increase, the report said, as the crackdown continues.

Overcrowded camps rife with abuses

The detained migrants were gathered in a facility in Tripoli called the Collection and Return Center, said police Col. Nouri al-Grettli, head of the center. He said the migrants were then being distributed to detention centers in Tripoli and surrounding towns.

Migrants have suffered abuse and serious ill-treatment in Libya's detention centers. Rights groups have reported cases of torture and sexual harassment routinely happening to detainees.

EU denounces violence

The European Union, which has been criticized for its support of Libya’s efforts to stem migrant crossings, condemned the use of violence in the recent crackdown. EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali told AP that the EU had long been calling on Libya to find an alternative to the system of arbitrary detentions in managing the migrant population.

"While fully supportive of Libyan sovereignty, the EU also strongly encourages Libyan authorities to refrain from the use of lethal force in these operations," she said.

Alexandra Saieh, Libya advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AP that migrants in Libya have been scared to leave their homes, for fear of being detained.

"People are quite horrified," she said. "This is really a wake-up call to the dire situation that exists in Libya for migrants and refugees and the international community must step up."

More migrants intercepted

As the crackdown was still going on around Gargaresh, Libya’s coast guard intercepted more migrants on their way to Europe. On Monday the guards stopped a wooden boat carrying about 500 migrants, the UNHCR said. Shortly afterwards, another boat carrying 59 migrants was intercepted.

In the first nine months of 2021 alone, more than 25,000 people have been intercepted by the European Union-trained and equipped Libyan coastguard and returned to the war-torn country, according to an IOM report. Some 44,000 people have reached Europe’s shores by crossing the Central Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya in the same period.

More than 1,100 migrants have been reported dead or presumed dead off Libya's shores.

With AFP


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