This Sunday, the Libyan coastguard intercepted two boats carrying more than 550 migrants heading to Europe. This marked the latest sea interception amid a surge in sea crossing attempts by many people from North Africa. This event took place two days after Tripoli detained 4,000 people in a massive crackdown, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Among the 4,000 migrants who are detained, there are hundreds of vulnerable women and children in the western town of Gargaresh. According to Al Jazeera, Libyan authorities described this crackdown as a security campaign against undocumented migration and drug trafficking. However, there was no mention of a human trafficker or drug dealer being arrested by the interior ministry.
Georgette Gagnon, the UN’s assistant secretary-general resident and humanitarian coordinator for Libya, reported one migrant killed and fifteen injured when Libyan security raided houses and temporary shelters in Gargaresh. “[T]he United Nations reiterates that the use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force by security and police forces during law enforcement operations is a violation of national and international law,” Gagnon said. “[W]e call on the Libyan authorities to investigate reports of security forces’ use of lethal and excessive force against migrants in yesterday’s operations.”
Libya has been the dominant transit point for migrants to flee from Africa and the Middle East. There are reports of violence and mistreatment towards migrants being held at the detention center; this should be the focal point of international concern. People need to bear in mind that migrants endure many hardships and life-risking journeys to get across each border. Many, however, are being left behind in countries filled with wars and poverty. Violence of any form to migrants who are merely fleeing to find better lives is to be condemned. It is, however, easier said than done. Organizations like the UN must keep a close look at those detention centers and make sure that they are (at least) hygienic and free of abuses of any kind.
Libya is the hot spot for migrants to gather because the country is chaotic, filled with militias, and often allows smugglers to bring many migrants, according to The Washington Post. However, this in turn has led to Libyan authority imposing more harsh restrictions. For instance, once the migrants are stopped, they are usually robbed of their possessions. Then they are transported to detention centers. If they have enough money, those migrants are sent off to other smugglers, who would put them on life-threatening (small) boats to the international water. That is why we witness so many accounts of migrants dying on the open water. Those who cannot afford to get out of the detention center, however, remain there for months in extremely bad sanitary conditions and endure abuses.
Libya must change its current policy of holding poor migrants hostage in detention centers where security forces are being imposed. For instance, human rights activists can put pressure on the authority to send those migrants back home or to better places. They could help by providing refuge or financial support so that those migrants could become self-sufficient. There is no perfect solution for people fleeing from places filled with poverty and wars, but we should at least ensure that Libya could treat them humanely while they are being detained.
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