Photo: Three young children wait to be evacuated from Libya to Niger, at UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli. © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem - Photo: 2019

Fighting in Tripoli Throws Refugees Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

By Klara Smits

BRUSSELS (IDN) – Multiple independent sources report that at least three people were killed and around 20 injured in an attack on the Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre in southern Tripoli. The attack seemed specifically aimed at the refugees and migrants in the centre, according to witnesses who say that the rebel militia fighters of General Khalifa Haftar were behind the attack.

Reports say that after a brief lull, the fighting around Libya’s capital Tripoli has intensified in the past week. In the southern districts of Tripoli, forces loyal to the UN-recognised Tripoli-based government clashed with the forces of General Khalifa Haftar.

General Haftar, having the support of among others France and Saudi Arabia, launched an attack on Tripoli, but was reportedly met with resistance; even powerful militias in Misrata joined on the side of the Fayez al-Sarraj’s internationally backed government. Subsequently, the humanitarian situation is quickly deteriorating, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 278 have been killed in the past weeks of fighting, and the supply of electricity, water and medical supplies is severely diminished.

Some of Tripoli’s detention centres are located in fighting hotspots. On April 23, armed men attacked the Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre. UN refugee agency UNHCR has reported that 12 injured persons were transferred from the centre to the hospital, but witnesses state that three people have died and 20 were injured.

UNHCR evacuated refugees from the centre to a prison in Zawiya, 45 kilometres from Tripoli. One witness reported that the attack happened as refugees were praying during the Easter Fast – armed men attacked them when the refugees asked for a few more minutes to complete their prayer.

Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of the UNHCR, Tweeted: “UNHCR makes extraordinary efforts to transfer refugees from unsafe jails where they are arbitrarily detained to another jail where human rights abuses occurred. Refugees are kept hostage of this situation. We urgently need evacuation options!”

Cochetel refers to earlier reports on the prison in Zawiya, the Al Nasr detention centres. In 2018, images of the conditions in the detention centres emerged – and the witnesses that had spread the images were consequently punished severely.

In addition, a witness reported that traffickers continue to operate from the centre. The refugees of Qasr bin Gashir reported that they had refused to be evacuated to another notorious detention centre, Zintan detention centre, due to the reports of deaths from diseases such as Tuberculosis and human trafficking there.

It is not the first time that refugees and migrants have become victims to the ongoing instability in Libya. When fighting breaks out, refugees and migrants are often left trapped. When the fighting intensified around Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre, the refugees were left without food, water and care for two full days as their guards fled. Eventually, two guards came back.

Refugees in Qasr bin Ghashir, like in many other detention centres, have faced additional human rights abuses, including beatings, lack of food, lack of medical care and lack of hygiene. They reported “being stuck in a dark hole” with little light reaching them.

In addition, being in touch with the outside world via mobile phones carries a great risk. Guards have beaten refugees and have threatened them with knives in order to take their phones from them. People that have the courage to speak up can face severe consequences, including public torture to dissuade others from doing the same.

The refugees and migrants in Libya request urgent evacuation to safe locations outside of Libya. In addition,  thousands of refugees and migrants are still stuck in other centres in and around Tripoli, at risk of becoming victims of the fighting. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 April 2019]

Photo: Three young children wait to be evacuated from Libya to Niger, at UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli. © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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