Key Issues

Migrants, Stuck in Libya, Demand Evacuation as Conflict Escalates

TRIPOLI – We don’t need to eat, said a young man held in a Libyan detention center five days after the compound was bombed killing more than 50 people and injuring at least 130. We didn’t touch the food. We need to be out of Libya.

The hunger strike in the detention center was on its third day Sunday, according to the protester communicating with VOA via phone and social media. He sent pictures of detainees holding signs like We are in the grave and Save us from the next bomb. We are survivors, but still we are targeted.

News and additional photographs of the protest came from other detainees communicating with hidden mobile phones.

The airstrikes hit the detention center late Tuesday, after international organizations warned both sides of Libya’s ongoing war that civilians were held at that location, which has been targeted before. Amnesty International says there is evidence the detention center is located near weapons’ storage, but Tripoli authorities say there is no legitimate military target in the area.

Officials say about 600 people were inside the detention center when the airstrikes hit a nearby garage, and then the center itself. Some survivors reported breaking open the doors of the detention center to escape, others escaped the bombing after guards let them out. Still others reported shots fired in the chaos.

Five days later, migrants were still sleeping outside in the yard on Sunday, according to detainees, with part of the center destroyed and other parts appearing to be about to collapse.

The United Nations announced it would start evacuations over the weekend, but some protesters said moving to another detention center would only prolong the danger.

If they are taking us to another detention center, we won’t go, the protester told VOA on the phone. We want to get out of this country or stay here.

Escalating war

To wind up in a Libyan detention center, migrants travel from across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Many people die on the trip to Libya alone and nearly 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2019 trying to cross to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Thousands of survivors remain detained in Libya, hoping to try to cross to Europe and unwilling to return to the wars, violence and dire poverty they fled. But as the war for Tripoli intensifies, some say Libya is as dangerous as the countries they fled.

Sudan, Libya they are the same, said one woman outside the detention center only hours after last week’s bombing. She had fled war and genocide in Sudan, only to find herself detained, impoverished and terrified in Libya, she said. Libyan forces have been battling for the capital since early April, when Khalifa Haftar, the de-facto leader of eastern Libya declared he would reunite the divided country by force and marched on Tripoli in the west. Forces loyal to the Government of National Accord, which runs western Libya, have been defending the city since. Neither side appears to be backing down.

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed and 5,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization, and more than 100,000 have fled their homes.

Protesters outside the detention center on Sunday secretly sent out pictures and videos, calling on the international community to rescue them and allow them to apply for asylum in safer countries.

Doctors Without Borders came with medicine, but we don’t want medicine, said the protester communicating with VOA via phone and social media. The UNHCR evacuated some people but we don’t want to evacuate to another detention center.

We want to go to a safe country, or we will stay here.

Source: Voice of America