7, June 2019
The United Nations (UN) has criticized the “ghastly” conditions in migrant detention centers in Libya, where some refugees have died of tuberculosis and many others have simply disappeared.
“We are deeply concerned about the ghastly conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in detention in Libya,” the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
According to UN figures, some 3,400 migrants and refugees remain jailed in the capital, Tripoli, which has seen a surge in fighting since a mix of militia outfits — which have come together as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) — launched a major military offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in early April.
Amid the rampant violence and insecurity, the Libyan Coast Guard has detained thousands of people off Libya’s coasts and handed them over to the country’s detention facilities.
Referring to the conditions in one detention center, in Zintan, which was recently visited by UN officials, Colville said that the refugees and migrants there were “severely malnourished, lacking water, locked in overcrowded warehouses reeking with the smell of rubbish and waste from overflowing latrines.”
He warned that the conditions in the prison, which houses 654 refugees and migrants, “amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture.”
‘This really is a crisis’
The UN human rights spokesman also said that 22 people had already died of tuberculosis in the Zintan detention center since last September.
Colville added that 90 other inmates had contracted the disease. Sixty of those, he said, had been locked in a separate isolation hangar, which he described as a “hell hole,” while the other 30 had been transferred to the Gharyan Detention Center, south of the capital.
“They have reportedly been sent there to die because there are no burial facilities for Christians in Zintan,” he said.
“Tuberculosis need not be a killer disease, but in these circumstances, clearly it is killing people and there is a risk that others will die,” Colville said. “This is really a crisis.”
He also expressed concern about the disappearance of hundreds of migrants from a facility in al-Khoms City, which is under the oversight of the Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).
“This is particularly worrying given reports that migrants are being sold for forced labor or to smugglers promising transit to Europe,” Colville said, also expressing concern about “reports that some women have been sold for sexual exploitation.”
The UN official urged the Libyan government to launch an immediate investigation “to locate these missing people.”
“The Libyan Coast Guard and the DCIM must ensure that they are accountable for every person in detention, and that their human rights are respected,” Colville said.
Libya has been in effective chaos since 2011, when longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention.
The migrants fleeing Libya often attempt to reach Europe. Alarmed by increasing numbers of migrants, European countries have over the past years tried to convince Libya to crack down on such migration.