The Libyan National Army (LNA) began an offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) last week, in a series of attacks in and near the capital Tripoli that have left inhabitants stockpiling supplies, fearing the violence will spread further. Migrants from all over Africa, detained in makeshift jails, are terrified, Al-Jazeera reports, as the fighting intensifies and they are unable to flee. General Khalifa Haftar, the LNA commander, declared that his militia would seek to take Tripoli from the current government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and the BBC reports that around 2,800 people have already fled from the fighting. Detained migrants, however, have nowhere to go, locked up and hoping not to end up caught in the crossfire.
In a recording obtained by Al-Jazeera, a refugee in Libya made a plea for safety: “we can hear the sounds of the guns now. We have many children and women here. We need evacuation. We don’t want to die here,” he said. Detained migrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing from violence or poverty in their countries of birth, have been able to report on the conditions of their captivity through recordings sent to news outlets, but little has changed through increased awareness of the situation. An outbreak of violence last year in the Tripoli area led to over 400 detained migrants being abandoned in Ain Zara detention center, Al-Jazeera reports, when their guards fled. “All the people want to run away from here. We are very stressed now. Already our mind is losing hope,” a detained migrant said in another recording.
Last week, the International Organization for Migration averred that Libya “cannot be considered a safe port or haven for migrants” due to the “security and humanitarian situation.” The basic human rights of migrants, to due process of law and humane conditions of detention, are regularly violated, and the deteriorating political situation only exacerbates an already deplorable situation. Libya has experienced political instability since the death of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and experts predict an escalation of violence in the coming days. The rights of migrants in Libya, ignored and abused for too long, must finally be respected, and those held in detention should, at the very least, be released from captivity and allowed to temporarily remain in Libya, as the situation in Tripoli may at any moment break into open conflict.
As a central point in the migration route between sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, and Europe, and with its own political instability to grapple with, Libya has been continuously documented as an unsafe place for migrants. The United Nations has continuously issued statements against the EU practice of returning migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya, citing the widespread use of remarkably inhumane detention centers. These detention centers frequently lack bathrooms, beds, food, and clean water, and migrants can be detained indefinitely until they are deported. The UN-supported Libyan government has a questionable amount of actual authority in the country, and multiple militia groups purportedly under its control have effectively unchecked power in the apprehension, detention, and deportation process of migrants. This lack of centralized authority and rule of law, factors contributing to preexisting conditions of migrant abuse, has now come to a head in the violence on the outskirts of Tripoli. The migrants, already being held in unsafe conditions that fail to meet international human rights legal standards, are now doubly fearful as fighting rages around them.