Thousands of African migrants being detained in Libya

Thousands of African migrants being detained in Libya
Between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants mostly from sub-Saharan Africa are being held in Libyan detention centres after entering the country illegally, an official said on Tuesday.
3 min read
10 May, 2017
Thousands of migrants have attempted to cross into Europe via Libya [AFP]

Thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are being held in Libyan detention centres after entering the country illegally, an official said on Tuesday. 

Between 7,000 and 8,000 African refugees remain in some 23 operational migrant detention centres, Abdulrazaq al-Shniti, from an authority to counter-illegal immigration said.

The comments were made at the opening of a new detention centre in Tajoura - an eastern suburb of the capital Tripoli - that already shelters 130 young African migrants, an other official said.

They had been picked up from a nearby warehouse where people smugglers had kept them before a planned sea crossing to Europe.

Shniti said the gang leaders of people-smuggling networks had been arrested recently and would soon be brought to justice.

He said illegal immigration into Libya had reached such unprecedented levels because the country's southern borders were "completely open".

"If we can stop (migrants crossing) into the southern region, we will be able to limit illegal immigration," Shniti said.

Libya has long struggled to control its 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) of southern borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger, even before the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The North African country has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe.

But smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the post-uprising chaos, with tens of thousands of people each year making the perilous crossing to Italy just some 300 kilometres away.

In 2016, a record 181,000 migrants reached Italy, 90 percent of them from Libya.

"Marketplace for human trafficking"

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Wednesday she will look into the alleged 'marketplace' for human trafficking in Libya, following earlier reports of migrants being forced into slavery.

Evidence of crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya is being collected, Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council.

Thousands of vulnerable migrants - including women and children - are being held in detention centres across Libya where "crimes, including killings, rapes and torture, are alleged to be commonplace", she said.

Noting that Libya's overall security has "deteriorated significantly" since last year, Bensouda warned that migrant-smuggling could help organised crime and terror networks expand their hold in the North African country.

Last month, Italian prosecutor made extraordinary claims, accusing aid groups in Libya of working with brutal human traffickers that operate in the war-torn country.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers), SOS Mediterranee, Save the Children and Mobile Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) are some of the NGOs who have denied being in collusion with traffickers. 

The number of people leaving Libya to reach Europe is up nearly 50 percent this year compared with the opening months of 2016.

Agencies contributed to this report.