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Libya: release migrants and refugees trapped in detention centres amid escalating clashes

Refugees and migrants awaiting transit to a detention centre in Tripoli in 2016 © TAHA JAWASHI

More than 700 people trapped in a detention centre near Tripoli fighting

‘The UK Government is one of those partly responsible’ - Steve Valdez-Symonds

Responding to reports that more than 700 refugees and migrants are trapped in a detention centre in Qasr bin Ghasher in close proximity to intense armed clashes in the Libyan capital Tripoli, Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“The Libyan government must immediately release all migrants and refugees from these horrific detention centres where they are held illegally and face appalling abuse and torture. 

“The authorities must do everything to ensure the safety of these men, women and children, left without access to food, water and other essentials amid the escalating violence in and around Tripoli. 

“By actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, European governments have helped to fuel this crisis.  

“The renewed conflict in Tripoli shows yet again how crucial it is for EU member states to ensure safe routes out of Libya for migrants and refugees. 

“EU member states must also reconsider their support for the Libyan Coast Guard, which has returned countless migrants and refugees back to Libya where they face arbitrary and indefinite detention, torture, extortion and sexual violence, among other serious violations.”

The Libyan Coast Guard has returned at least 19 refugees and migrants since the outbreak of violence in Tripoli. 

In a report last year, Amnesty showed how deaths of refugees and migrants at sea spiralled to more than 700 along the central Mediterranean route in June and July, with the UK accused of “complicity” in a cycle of abuse involving endangering migrants at sea and forcing - often via direct support for the Libyan Coast Guard - people back to Libya, where they frequently face multiple human rights violations in squalid detention centres.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugees and Migrant Rights Director, said:

“With its support of the morally bankrupt Libyan Coast Guard, the UK Government is one of those partly responsible for the horrors being experienced by refugees and other migrants in Libya.”

General Haftar’s offensive

On 4 April, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, under General Khalifa Haftar’s command, launched an offensive to take control of Tripoli. Since then fighting has intensified between his forces and militias aligned with Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord.

Around 3,000 migrants and refugees are trapped in detention centres in Abu Salim, Gharyan and Qasr bin Ghasher, close to the fighting. To date, UNHCR has been able to facilitate the relocation of 150 refugees from the Ain Zara detention centre to its Gathering and Departure Facility. UNHCR said its efforts to secure additional transfers of refugees from other detention centres have been hampered by access and security challenges.

At least 18,250 people have been displaced by the armed clashes, with 48 civilian casualties confirmed by the UN - including 13 civilians killed and others injured. On Friday, UNHCR issued an urgent appeal calling for the immediate release of refugees and migrants from detention centres in view of the worsening security situation.

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