Aid group halts work in migrant detention centers in Libya

Aid group halts work in migrant detention centers in Libya
3 min read
Doctors Without Borders is suspending activities in two overcrowded Libyan detention centres in Tripoli due to increased violence, abuse and ill treatment of migrants and refugees held there by Libyan authorities.
Libya is war-torn [Getty]

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday it is suspending activities in two overcrowded Libyan detention centres in Tripoli due to increased violence, abuse and ill treatment of migrants and refugees held there by Libyan authorities.

Beatrice Lau, MSF's head of mission in Libya, said in a statement the decision was not an easy one to make.

“However, the persistent pattern of violent incidents and serious harm to refugees and migrants, as well as the risk to the safety of our staff, has reached a level that we are no longer able to accept," she said. MSF is the abbreviation for the French name of the group, Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The aid group said that on June 17 it treated 19 people inside the Mabani detention centre who suffered “fractures, cuts, abrasions and blunt trauma” from beatings and other acts of violence committed by guards there. One of the patients was an unaccompanied child who was unable to walk due to severe injuries to his ankles. More than 2,000 people are estimated to be held in “severely overcrowded cells" at Mabani, the statement said.

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Meanwhile, in the Abu Salim detention centre, MSF said it received reports on June 13 of people inside being shot at with an automatic weapon. But the group was denied access to the centre for an entire week, preventing its doctors from treating the injured.

The aid group had played an important role in monitoring conditions inside the migrant centres, which are otherwise shut off from the outside world, providing key information on some of the abuses that have taken place inside them.

More than 14,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the EU-trained and equipped Libyan coast guard so far this year — a record number — and returned to Libya where many are arbitrarily detained in abhorrent conditions.

“Most detention centres lack ventilation and natural light; some are so overcrowded that up to four people share one square meter of space, forcing people to take shifts to lie down and sleep,” the MSF statement said, adding that there is also a lack of adequate access to clean water, hygiene and not enough food.

The announcement by MSF comes two days after an Associated Press story shed light on reports of sexual assault by Libyan guards against underage asylum seekers in another Tripoli detention centre, Shara al-Zawiya, where the victims are still detained.

On Monday, European Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero said the situation in Libyan detention centers was "absolutely unacceptable, and the current arbitrary detention system has to end in Libya.”

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