UN attacks ‘ghastly’ conditions in Libya migrant detention centres

On Friday, the United Nations (UN) attacked horrific conditions in migrant detention centres in Libya, with dozens dying from tuberculosis and hundreds scraping by on starvation rations while many others appear to have disappeared.

“We are deeply concerned about the ghastly conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in detention in Libya,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva.

According to UN figures, some 3 400 migrants and refugees remain detained in Tripoli, which has seen a surge in fighting since early April.

Despite the rampant violence and insecurity, the Libyan Coast Guard has picked up more than 2 300 people off Libya’s coast and delivered them to detention facilities in the war-ravaged country.

READ MORE: South Africa must not repeat Libya’s mistakes with refugees

Colville said that the UN rights office recently visited the Zintan detention centre, where 654 refugees and migrants were being held.

He warned that the conditions there “amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture.”

“We found them severely malnourished, lacking water, locked in overcrowded warehouses reeking with the smell of rubbish and waste from overflowing latrines,” he said.

Colville said some people there reportedly received only one meal of 200 grammes of plain pasta per day.

But the 432 Eritrean nationals detained there, including 132 children, reportedly received only half that ration.

Sent away ‘to die’

At the same time, he said, 22 people at the facility had already died of tuberculosis since last September, while another 60 people suffering from tuberculosis had been locked in a separate isolation hangar, which Colville described as a “hell hole”.


Colville said that 30 others had been moved to the Gharyan Detention Centre, south of Tripoli, which is very close to the current frontline.

“They have reportedly been sent there to die because there are no burial facilities for Christians in Zintan,” he said.

READ MORE: Widespread torture and rape documented in Libya’s refugee camps

“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,” he said, stressing: “This is really a crisis.”

Colville also pointed out that since the end of April, the Libyan Coast Guard said it had delivered hundreds of people to a facility in Al-Khoms, which is under the oversight of the Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).

This includes 203 people delivered on May 23 alone.

However, he said, the Al-Khoms facility now reports that it currently only holds 30 migrants.

“This is particularly worrying given reports that migrants are being sold for forced labour or to smugglers promising transit to Europe,” Colville said, also lamenting “reports that some women have been sold for sexual exploitation.”

Colville called upon the Libyan government to “immediately launch an independent 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,” he said.

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