Libya: Time Running Out For Hundreds of Migrants and Refugees in Dangerously Overcrowded Detention Center

LIBYA 2018 © MSF

AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK, MAY 3, 2018—Hundreds of migrants and refugees are being held in a dangerously overcrowded detention center in Libya, without adequate food or water and in inhumane conditions, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.

Roughly 800 migrant and refugee men, women, and children are detained in the detention center in the port city of Zuwara, many of whom have been held for more than five months. The situation is deteriorating daily as more refugees and migrants are arbitrarily detained, including more than 500 people in the last 15 days alone. The number held far exceeds the center's capacity, with floor space so limited it is barely possible to lie down.

"The situation is critical," said Karline Kleijer, MSF emergency program manager. "We strongly urge all international agencies with a presence in Libya, representatives from the countries of origin, and the Libyan authorities to do everything they can to find a solution for these people over the next few days."

Since April 18, an MSF emergency team has provided health care to the detainees in the center. 

On May 1, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR airlifted 88 people in need of international protection from Zuwara to another detention center in Tripoli in order to identify the most vulnerable individuals for potential evacuation abroad. The Libyan authorities have transferred some people to other detention centers in an attempt to reduce the extreme overcrowding, and the International Organization for Migration has started a process of "voluntary humanitarian return" for some detainees. However, there is no solution in sight for many of the estimated 800 people who remain in the detention center in Zuwara.

A large number of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Zuwara have already endured alarming levels of violence and exploitation in Libya and during harrowing journeys from their home countries. Many are from eastern or western African countries, but some are from as far away as southern Asia. Some were malnourished on their arrival to the center as they had been held captive by smuggling networks in the area.

"MSF calls again for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya," Kleijer said.