THU 12 - 12 - 2019
Jul 5, 2019
The Daily Star
Libya guards reportedly ‘shot at migrants fleeing airstrikes’
GENEVA/TRIPOLI: The United Nations said Thursday it had information that Libyan guards shot at refugees and migrants trying to flee from airstrikes that killed at least 53 people, including six children, in a migrant detention center. A report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were two airstrikes late Tuesday, one hitting an unoccupied garage and one hitting a hangar containing around 120 refugees and migrants.
“There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards as they tried to escape,” the OCHA report said.
Bodies were still being recovered from the rubble, the report said, suggesting the death toll could rise.
There are still about 500 people at the detention center at Tajoura, east of Tripoli, with four Nigerians set for release to the Nigerian Embassy Thursday and a plan for 31 women and children to be sent to the U.N. refugee agency’s departures facility in Tripoli.
There was no comment from Libyan officials on the OCHA report.
Interior Minister Fathi Ali Bashagha said the Tripoli government was considering closing all detention centers for migrants and releasing the inmates. Thousands are held alone in centers in Tripoli, the capital.
Migrants who survived the airstrike said Thursday they had been conscripted by a local militia to work in a weapons workshop adjacent to the center.
Two migrants told the Associated Press that for months they were sent day and night to the workshop inside the detention center.
“We clean the anti-aircraft guns. I saw a large amount of rockets and missiles too,” said a young migrant who has been held at Tajoura for nearly two years. Another migrant recounted a nearly two-year odyssey in which he fled war in his native country and was passed from one trafficker to another until he reached the Libyan coast. He boarded a boat that was intercepted by the coast guard, which later transferred him to Tajoura, where he was wounded in Wednesday’s airstrike.
“I fled from the war to come to this hell of Libya,” he said. “My days are dark.”
The migrants requested that their names and nationalities not be published, fearing reprisal.
Libya is one of the main departure points for African migrants fleeing poverty and war to reach Italy by boat, but many are intercepted at sea and brought back by the Libyan coast guard, with the approval of the European Union.
The 53 dead was the highest publicly reported toll from an airstrike or shelling since eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched a ground and aerial offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya’s internationally recognized government in the northwest of the country. “The number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict has almost doubled as the result of this single attack,” the OCHA report said, a day after U.N. officials said the airstrikes may have constituted a war crime.
The U.N. has repeatedly said Libya is not a safe place for rescued migrants to be sent back to and has called for refugees and migrants to be released and given safe shelter.
It has declined to directly criticize Italy for shutting its doors but said European states must help to resolve the conflict in Libya in order to stop people taking perilous sea journeys.
The center is close to a military base and an airstrike on nearby Libyan government forces on May 7 injured two people in the center. Despite the risks, Libyan authorities had continued to transfer migrants and refugees into the center, according to the U.N. report. On May 12, 108 refugees and migrants picked up at sea by the Libyan coast guard were disembarked and transferred to the Tajoura detention center, the report added.
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