Twenty-two Syrian migrants who have spent more than five months in Libya are on a hunger strike to demand their release, a human rights group has said. Thousands of migrants are detained under appalling conditions in the north African country.
A group of Syrian nationals detained in a prison in the western Libyan town of Zawiya since last October have reportedly begun a hunger strike. Human rights activists from the Libyan group 'Belaady' said three minors are among those refusing food.
According to the news agency AP, the activists have visited the prison twice this year and claim the detainees have suffered from scabies and other skin diseases.
A spokesperson for the government in Tripoli didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, AP reported.
Tarik Lamloum, who founded the human rights group, said the migrants arrived in Libya last year on a flight operated by the private Syrian airline Cham Wings. "They entered the country legally and have all necessary documents and stamps on their passports," he said.
They then moved to western Libyan where they were detained in the town of Ajaylat, around 80 kilometers from Tripoli, as part of a crackdown on migrants. A court ordered that they be fined 600 Libyan dinars (around $125) each and deported, according to a document obtained by AP.
Belaady said the Correction and Rehabilitation Institution in Zawiya, known as Jodeddaim Prison, is overseen by the justice ministry, unlike other detention centers for migrants run by the interior ministry. The organization called for the release of the migrants from prison and that they not be deported to Syria, where civil conflict has continued for more than ten years.
Read more: 'I can't imagine the future - Ajabana, 'exhausted' after nine months of detention in Libya
Tens of thousands detained
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East and African countries arrive every year in Libya, a major departure point for people attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Since a 2011 uprising against then leader Gaddafi, ongoing violent conflict, high levels of insecurity and corruption have enabled people smugglers and human traffickers to operate with impunity.
As of August 2022 there were at least 680,000 migrants from over 40 countries in Libya, according to the UN migration agency, IOM. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), says the majority are victims of arbitrary detention, torture and violence.
The UN has repeatedly condemned the return to Libya of migrants who are picked up or rescued from the Mediterranean, arguing that the basic preconditions to ensure the safety of migrants are lacking and the country cannot be considered a safe place.
In the week from February 12-18, the IOM office in Libya says as many as 885 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya.