In the Ain Zara center, 'when it rains outside, it also rains inside' | Photo: Private
In the Ain Zara center, 'when it rains outside, it also rains inside' | Photo: Private

Ajabana* was arrested last January while demonstrating outside an administrative center of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Libyan capital. Since then, he has been locked up in the notorious Ain Zara prison. He described the nightmarish experience to InfoMigrants.

Ajabana* left his native region of Darfur, when the war broke out in 2003. He was seven years old at the time. He took refuge with his family in the Djabal refugee camp, in eastern Chad, where he spent his childhood, adolescence, and the first years of his adult life. In 2021, he left the camp for Libya. His goal at the time was to work for a few months in order to save enough money to board a boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea. But his hopes were dashed when he was arrested in January 2022 and thrown in prison.

"When I arrived in Libya, at first, things were going well. I lived in Gargaresh, a district of Tripoli, and I managed to earn a little money by cleaning the homes of Libyan families or working on construction sites. Then the police raids started.

On October 2021, Libyan security forces carried out waves of violent arrests of migrants, ostensibly for security reasons. Seven people lost their lives in the operation and 4,000 migrants were arrested and sent to jails in the Libyan capital.

To ask for help, I went to protest in front of the CDC [Community Day Center, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees day center: editor’s note]. We just wanted the UNHCR to protect us. This lasted three months. In the beginning of January, the police arrested us. It was very violent.

Read more: Libya: Violence erupts outside UNHCR center where hundreds of migrants are protesting

Along with other people, I was taken to Ain Zara prison, still in Tripoli. There were almost 700 detainees along with me when I arrived.

Nine months have gone by, and I'm still here. It is really very difficult. Every day I do the same thing: I get up, I go to the bathroom and I eat the piece of bread they give us for breakfast. At noon, we are served a spaghetti dish for five people along with water that tastes bad because it is salty. The rest of the day I wait.

According to the UNHCR, the living conditions in this detention center, like in many others, are "disastrous". Nearly 1,000 people in total, including women and young children, are crammed into cells, unable to get out and with "very limited access to basic services."

When it rains outside, it also rains inside. The ceiling is made of sheet metal but it is missing in places. With the other migrants, we put buckets everywhere but it is not enough. The building where I live is often flooded. When that happens, everything is soaked: the small mattresses, the blankets, our belongings. The guards don't care, like with the toilet, which hasn't worked for months.


In my building, I would say there are currently around 250 people: there are Sudanese like me, South Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans and a few Somalis.

In June, a migrant hanged himself in prison [Mohamed Abdul Aziz was a 19-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker: editor's note]. I knew him well, we spent our days together. Since his arrival in Libya, he had been arrested and imprisoned five times by the Libyans – at sea or simply in the house where he lived. His last arrest happened in the same circumstances as mine: at the demonstration in front of the CDC. After a few months in Ain Zara, following discussions between the UNHCR and the prison management, he was released with other people. After a few days, he was back, after having been arrested once again for no reason.

From that point on, he completely lost hope. He was dejected, tired of all the arrests, the torture and his time in prison. He decided to end his life to avoid facing these problems again. He never warned us that he would do something so dramatic, even if he had confided to being 'tired of this life'. The day before he died, he obtained some dates and shared them with everyone.

Read more: Dozens of migrants detained in Libya during police raids

From time to time, there are people from the UNHCR who come to the prison to see how we are treated, but no one dares to talk to them. If we do, afterwards, the guards threaten us and beat us. It's happened many times since I've been here and I've seen it with my own eyes. So I prefer not to say anything because I'm too afraid of the consequences.

InfoMigrants regularly collects testimonies from exiles detained in Libya, including in Ain Zara prison. A migrant had told the editorial staff that the people locked up there were regularly bullied. "The [Libyan] guards beat us for no reason. Sometimes they take people into a room and beat them. They film the scenes of torture and send them to the families to pay a ransom," said Malik, a 23-year-old Sudanese refugee.

Sometimes in the morning the guards select prisoners and take them outside the prison, to do work. It lasts a few hours, sometimes all day. I am very afraid of being taken away one day.

This constant threat from the guards is very stressful, and it exhausts me. Between the demonstrations in front of the CDC and prison, I have been fighting for a year. I'm exhausted. I don't know why I'm here, when I'm going out… nobody tells us anything. I can't imagine the future.

All I want now is to get out of here and cross the Mediterranean to Europe. There, I would like to study to have a better job and send money to my family who still live in the refugee camp in Chad. They are counting on me.

*Name has been changed

Read more: Red Cross: 'When a person disappears, life is frozen in many ways'


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