On Friday, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called for the immediate release of 60 people being held in captivity by armed men in Sabratah, Libya. The group, which includes 24 children, was abducted from their homes almost two weeks ago and is being held on a former military base in appalling conditions.
On the night of September 28, masked armed men stormed homes in Al Ajaylat, stole valuable items and identification documents, and took approximately 350 people, mostly from West Africa, to a warehouse guarded by armed men in nearby Sabratah. Since then, some have escaped, and others were released, but 60 people remain held in captivity.
“The remaining 60 people, [mostly] women and children, must be immediately released and protected,” said Guillaume Baret, MSF’s head of mission in Libya.
MSF’s medical team was alerted of the incident by the Libyan Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) and went to the warehouse two days later to assess the situation and provide medical care. “We found over 350 women, children, and men sleeping on the ground in [appalling] living conditions without access to water, showers, or toilets,” said Baret.
MSF referred four people to the hospital for care and distributed water and emergency food rations. MSF medics were only allowed to consult with women and children—they were not allowed to treat men. The situation in the warehouse was tense, with armed men firing shots into the air.
On October 2, a shooting reportedly broke out following an attempted escape. According to several sources, at least three people were killed.
This crisis is a shocking illustration of the constant danger faced by refugees and migrants in Libya. Those who managed to escape or who were released from the warehouse are returning to an equally uncertain and dangerous environment. People trapped in Libya cannot escape violence or find safety.
Yesterday, October 8, two ships belonging to the Libyan general administration for coastal security returned to Libya after undergoing substantial repairs paid for by Italy and the European Union. These ships will be used to capture people at sea and return them to the same dangerous conditions in Libya they are trying to flee. Since the beginning of 2020, nearly 9,000 people have been returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard with the support of European states.
Approximately 2,400 people are arbitrarily detained in the DCIM's centers in Libya, but many more are likely held in other clandestine structures in horrific conditions, similar to the warehouse in Sabratah.
MSF teams currently provide support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in six detention centers in the Western and Central regions of Libya, as well as in Tripoli. Our teams provide general healthcare, medical referral services, mental health support, protection services, and support access to basic necessities through distributions of food and non-food items and water and sanitation services.