Guards kill six migrants detained in Libya, UN officials say

Shootings at the overcrowded centre in Tripoli come a week after more than 5,000 migrants were brought in

Migrants wait outside the UN refugee agency's negotiation office in Al Sarraj area in Tripoli, on October 9, 2021. Reuters
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Guards have shot and killed at least six people at a Libyan detention centre for migrants, UN officials have said.

The shootings at the overcrowded Mabani detention centre in the capital Tripoli come a week after authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants, including 215 children and more than 540 women, at least 30 of whom were pregnant, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

UN-commissioned investigators said abuses and ill treatment of migrants in Libya amounted to crimes against humanity.

A spokesman for Libya’s Interior Ministry, which oversees migrant detention centres, did not respond to requests for comment.

The IOM said guards started shooting following a riot and an attempted escape by migrants.

Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said “human rights violations and inhuman conditions” at Libya’s overcrowded detention centres have led to “indiscriminate shooting”.

Mr Cochetel urged the EU and UN to impose sanctions on those implicated in the abuses against migrants, especially after the findings of UN-commissioned investigators.

“Some individuals bear special responsibility for the human rights abuses committed either because they are directly involved in them or because they cover them under their authority. It is time for the UN and the EU sanctions committee to take action and list some individuals,” he said.

Peter Stano, the EU commission spokesman for foreign affairs, said commission members condemned the incident and expected a thorough investigation.

He declined to comment further, pending clarification on what had happened.

Federico Soda, the head of IOM’s mission in Libya, said at least six migrants were killed by guards, and at least 15 others were injured and taken to hospitals.

“The use of excessive force and violence often resulting in death is a regular occurrence in Libyan detention centers,” Mr Soda said.

“Some of our staff who witnessed this incident describe injured migrants in a pool of blood lying on the ground. We are devastated by this tragic loss of life.”

Hundreds flee

Hundreds of migrants reportedly fled the detention centre through a gap in the fence. Videos posted online showed large numbers of migrants running through the streets in Tripoli.

Gabriel Akoulong, 24, of Cameroon, was among the fleeing migrants. He was detained in the crackdown in the western town of Gargaresh, a major hub for migrants in Libya, and imprisoned in Mabani.

“They put us into crowded cells where we couldn’t even breathe. There was no food, no water, no oxygen,” he said.

During the escape, some migrants fell and were caught by Libyan guards who beat them. Some of the migrants trying to flee were shot, he said.

“I still ask myself why we have been detained and imprisoned,” he said.

Updated: October 10, 2021, 3:43 PM