Africa migrants return to bombed Libya detention centre

Africa migrants return to bombed Libya detention centre
A Libyan detention center where an airstrike killed more than 50 people two weeks ago is filling with migrants again, despite calls from the United Nations to empty the compound.
3 min read
17 July, 2019
Around 200 migrants filled the Tajoura center [Getty]

A Libyan migrant detention centre which was hit by an airstrike two weeks ago, killing more than 50 people, is housing refugees again, according to reports.

Work has also resumed at a nearby weapons workshop, despite calls from the United Nations to empty the migrant compound, and others like it, which are situated near the front-lines of the country's civil war.

As of Tuesday, around 200 migrants filled the Tajoura migrant centre, which was abandoned after an airstrike on 3 July that killed more than 50 migrants being held there, according to the UN refugee agency and two Libyan officials.

The building is being used to house rearrivals included a mix of people intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard, migrants transferred from overcrowded detention centres elsewhere, and people who fled Tajoura after the bombing only to be recaptured in the streets.

At the time, two men being held at the centre told AP they had been forced to clean and repair weapons in the civil war pitting the Tripoli-based government backed by the UN against forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with another government in the east.

A third migrant who had been evacuated from the centre told AP on Tuesday that the workshop was up-and-running again.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army has been waging an offensive against rival militias around Tripoli since April.

The UN-backed Libyan government blamed Haftar's forces for the airstrike. In a warning in May about Tajoura, the UN said it feared detention centres were being used to store weapons, effectively turning migrants into human shields.

Both sides in the civil war have the coordinates for the detention centres, the UN has said.

At least 53 migrants died in the airstrike, half of the known civilian dead since Haftar's Tripoli offensive began in April.

Haftar's forces said they were targeting a nearby military site, not the detention center.

Read more: UN envoy criticises EU 'blindness' on Libya migrant crisis

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) among others have called for the total shutdown of the detention centres, which are an integral part of the European Union's efforts to keep migration across the Mediterranean at bay.

The EU has spent hundreds of millions of euros in Libya, both equipping and training the Libyan coast guard and in efforts to improve the deplorable conditions of the detention centres.

Fathi Bashagha, interior minister of the Tripoli-based government, said earlier this month that his government was considering closing migrant detention centres and releasing all the migrants for their safety.

Two other officials said dozens of migrants started arriving just a week after the airstrike and more were expected in coming days.

Food, drinking water and medicine were limited, according to one of the officials. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they could not discuss the situation publicly.

The two confirmed the migrant's account that the weapons workshop was again operational.

Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for UNHCR, said the UN was concerned about the new arrivals at Tajoura and all 3,800 people who were at risk of being trapped in the fighting.

"We stand ready to support with the managed release of people," Yaxley said.

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