AUGUSTA, Italy (AP) — Hundreds of migrants protested for the 10th straight day Monday outside a United Nations facility in Libya’s capital of Tripoli demanding evacuation from the North African nation.
The gathering outside the U.N. refugee agency’s facility began after Libyan authorities launched a massive crackdown on migrants earlier this month in the western town of Gargaresh, detaining more than 5,000 people.
The detained migrants were held in overcrowded detention centers where torture, sexual assault and other abuses are rife. U.N.-commissioned investigators said earlier this month that abuse and ill treatment of migrants in Libya amount to crimes against humanity.
The government in Tripoli defended the raids, saying it was cracking down on illegal migration and drug trafficking.
Libya was plunged into turmoil by the NATO-backed 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The North African nation has since emerged as a popular, if extremely dangerous, route to Europe for those fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa and the Middle East.
Panicked and fearing detention, several hundred migrants have gathered outside the U.N. refugee agency’s community center in Tripoli since the crackdown began Oct. 1 in Gargaresh, a major hub for migrants.
The migrants have continued their protest even after the UNHCR said Friday it has temporarily suspended its activities at the center after two of its workers were injured amid tensions among the crowd.
The situation deteriorated outside the day center after hundreds of migrants fled the overcrowded Mabani detention center in Tripoli on Friday. Guards shot dead six migrants and injured at least 15 others, according to the U.N. migration agency.
However, Libya’s interior ministry, which oversees migrant detention centers, said only one migrant died due to the chaotic scramble during the mass escape.
Footage shared by migrants showed a crowd outside the facility, with women and children sitting in the street. Libyan police vehicles were also seen nearby. Some migrants held banners with slogans such as: “Libya, NO. Out of it, Yes,” and “Immediate Evacuation.”
Hanadi al-Nazir, a Sudanese migrant, said she was detained along with her husband Friday in the Gargaresh raids.
“They beat and whipped us during the raids,” she recalled. She said security forces bound their hands behind their backs and took them to the Mabani detention center.
Al-Nazir said they managed to flee the center during the mass escape. Since then, they have taken refuge outside the UNHCR center fearing they could again be detained.
“Evacuation is the solution,” she said in a telephone interview from outside the center. “It is not safe for us to stay here anymore.”
Abeer Adam is another migrant from Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region. The 35-year-old mother managed to flee, along with her four children, when forces stormed her makeshift home in Gargaresh on Oct. 1. They went directly to the UNHCR’s center, she said.
“Many women and children are still in prison,” she said over the phone. “All here are scared.”
The U.N. refugee agency has called on Libyan authorities to allow the resumption of humanitarian flights, which have been suspended for almost a year.
The suspension has led some countries to stop receiving additional resettlement submissions from Libya for 2021, causing the loss of 162 places on direct resettlement flights out of the North African country, the UNHCR said.
The agency warned that around 1,000 resettlement slots will not be filled either from Libya or through the Emergency Transit Mechanism, which allows the UNHCR to evacuate people out of Libya and then process their claims for long-term solutions.
“These flights are a lifeline” for migrants, the agency said.