Air strikes near the Libyan capital, Tripoli, have killed at least 60 migrants and refugees and wounded nearly 80 more, according to Al Jazeera. Two attacks hit an unoccupied garage and a hanger at the Tajoura detention center. As bodies continue to be pulled from the rubble, the death toll, which includes at least six children, is expected to rise. Both BBC News and Al Jazeera have reported that the United Nations has now received reports that guards fired on the migrants that tried to flee the airstrikes. Al Jazeera claims Libya’s internationally recognized government, Government of National Accord (GNA), blamed the renegade Libyan National Army (LNA) for the attack. However, the LNA has denied these accusations.
The scene following the attacks was described by an official in the Libyan health ministry who told BBC News, “People were everywhere, the camp was destroyed, people are crying, there is psychological trauma, the lights cut off… it was horrible, blood is everywhere.” However, despite the horror, a UN mission team that visited the camp said, “There has been no general relocation of the remaining refugees and migrants, and that some 500 people faced the same degree of vulnerability and exposure to violence.” The UN report added, “Humanitarian actors call for the immediate release of refugees and migrants from detention centers and for relocation to safe shelter.” This call was echoed by Safa Mshli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization of Migration. According to Al Jazeera, she said “We are not aware of plans to relocate the migrants that remain in Tajoura. Migrants intercepted or rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya, where they will face the same inhumane conditions.”
Ideally, the harsh conditions and attacks on migrants in Libya could be solved by ending the civil war. While this would certainly decrease the violence and threats like airstrikes to the detention centers, it does not eliminate the problems caused by the sheer number of migrants that end up in Libya and does not provide any immediate action. While the civil war continues to be fought, the migrants must be removed from the country to prevent any further tragedies. Libya, the UN and other international organizations should be looking to do two things. First, they should be seeking a new place to house these migrants. This may mean moving them to other countries to be detained, or the construction of a large facility for use in the region where these migrants are normally intercepted. Second, these groups should be working on increasing their processing power and moving these migrants either to their destinations, or back to their home counties so that the people are not sitting indefinitely in overcrowded detainment centers. In short, immediate action needs to be taken to remove the migrants from Libya, and the long-term goal should be to end the conflict at the root of these attacks.
The recent airstrike is just the latest incident in a string of violence and migrant troubles plaguing Libya. According to The New York Times, the civil war that began in 2011 intensified in April 2019, when General Khalifa Hifter commanded the LNA to advance on Tripoli, the capital of the GNA. The airstrikes were likely a result of General Hifter’s turn from “traditional means” of capturing the capital. However, the poor treatment of the migrants in Libya is not the fault of the LNA forces. Back in May, an LNA airstrike hit 80 meters from the GNA-run detention center. The GNA did not move the migrants to a safer location, but rather, have forced them to work in a government weapons facility. The conditions in these centers and the attacks that have targeted these migrants have been labeled as war crimes by the UN. Unfortunately, a large number of individuals have been subjected to these harsh conditions. The New York Times claims that Libya is a major hub where migrants trying to flee Africa for Europe are returned when they are intercepted at sea. Last year, roughly 15,000 individuals were forced into these Libyan detention centers. As of now, there have been no attempts by the UN or Libya to move these migrants to different countries.
The current situation in Libya is troubling in two ways. First, the citizens of Libya are being forced to endure a violent civil war. Second, international migrants are also being forced to endure this war when they are intercepted and placed in the war-torn country. While the ultimate goal should be to end the war within Libya, immediate action needs to take place to ensure the safety and humane treatment of the migrants. They should be moved to safer countries and then processed as quick as possible to prevent any further injury or mistreatment.