TRIPOLI/NEW YORK, APRIL 9, 2021—One person was killed and two were injured on the morning of April 8, after a shooting took place in a detention center in Tripoli, Libya, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. Two teenagers aged 17 and 18 with gunshot wounds were transferred to an MSF facility for urgent medical care. MSF again calls for an end to arbitrary detention in Libya, the immediate release of all those detained, and the provision of safe shelters and access to basic services for refugees and migrants.
Tensions were high in the severely overcrowded Al-Mabani Collection and Return Center right before the incident took place, leading to shots being fired indiscriminately into cells where detained people were held, according to reports MSF received.
“This shooting demonstrates the grave risks that people face while locked up in these detention centers for an indefinite period of time,” says Ellen van der Velden, MSF’s operational manager for Libya. “This latest act of violence is a clear corroboration that detention centers are dangerous places for people to be.”
In recent weeks, MSF medical teams have witnessed mounting tensions inside detention centers in Libya, where refugees and migrants—including women, children, and unaccompanied minors—are held against their will in inhumane conditions.
This is not the first time that detained refugees and migrants have been exposed to violence. Shootings and deaths have been reported in recent months and MSF teams have witnessed the use of physical force by guards. In February alone, MSF medics treated 36 detainees for fractures, blunt trauma, abrasions, eye injuries, gunshot wounds, and limb weakness in various detention centers—15 of these patients were referred by MSF to hospitals for further treatment. The injuries were recent, indicating that they had been sustained while inside the detention centers.
The centers have become increasingly overcrowded since early February when interceptions by the European Union-funded Libyan Coast Guard increased. More than 6,000 refugees and migrants have been intercepted at sea this year while trying to flee Libya to find safety in Europe. This has contributed to an unmanageable surge in the number of people held in detention centers across Tripoli—and in Al-Mabani in particular—resulting in a rapid deterioration of already unacceptable living conditions.
In the first week of February, the number of people held in Al-Mabani rose from 300 to 1,000—the center currently holds approximately 1,500 people. As in many other detention centers, people detained in Al-Mabani have minimal natural light and ventilation, insufficient food and clean drinking water, and a lack of hygiene facilities. Severe overcrowding —sometimes three people per square meter—often leaves no space even to lie down. Infectious diseases such as scabies and tuberculosis are rife. Physical distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is impossible.
Authorities at Al-Mabani have reportedly opened an investigation into this incident. MSF calls on the authorities to share the outcome of this investigation with the humanitarian community and to hold those responsible accountable for the incident.
MSF has worked in Libyan detention centers since 2016, providing general and psychological health care and emergency referrals to hospital to alleviate the suffering of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants who are arbitrarily detained.