London–What the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) has been hailing as a successful strike against drugs dens in the capital Tripoli has been damned by a human rights organisation as the mass arrests of more than 500 innocent migrants.
GNU premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah lauded Thursday’s early morning raids in the capital as a “planned security operation, to eliminate the largest dens of drug industry and promotion in the Gargaresh district” carried out by “ the heroes of the ministry of interior”.
Dbeibah added: “ We will not allow another war to be waged against our youth, the drug war, and we will pursue criminals in all regions of Libya.’’
According to The Libya Herald, while Dbeibah did not specifically mention illegal migrants as part of the raid, ministry of interior photos showed handcuffed illegal migrants under arrest and being loaded onto buses.
However, the Norwegian Refugee Council had a completely different take on the raids. Its Libya country director, Dax Roque protested that the mass razzia had been indiscriminate.
“”We are alarmed by reports of mass arrests of migrants in Tripoli this morning. We are hearing that more than 500 migrants, including women and children, have been rounded up, arbitrarily detained and are at risk of abuse and ill-treatment.”
Roque continued: “Migrants and refugees in Libya, particularly those without legal residency in the country, are often at risk of arbitrary detention. Torture, sexual violence, and extortion is rampant in Libyan detention centres. We believe this latest wave of arrests is part of wider crackdown by the Libyan authorities on migrants and refugees in Libya and the environment is becoming increasingly more restrictive.
He called on the Libyan authorities “to immediately release those detained and to end the crackdown on migrants and refugees taking place across the country. Countries with ties to Libya, particularly European states must also scale up pathways for resettlement of refugees in Libya.”
Roque’s protests chime with the recently voiced concerns of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) over the fate of migrants seeking to pass through Libya on their way to a better life in the wealthy West. It noted that thousands of Europe-bound migrants who were intercepted by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard and returned to Libya had simply disappeared.
According to IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli Libyan coast guard vessels had intercepted more than 24,000 Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean so far this year.
However, she said that only 6,000 have been accounted for in official detention centres in the North African country. The fate and whereabouts of thousands of other migrants remains unknown, she added. “We fear that many are ending up in the hands of criminal groups and traffickers, while others are being extorted for release,” she said.
A spokesman for the Libyan interior ministry which oversees the detention centres, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Libya has for years been a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries and hoping for a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Traffickers have exploited the anarchy and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands have drowned along the way. These traffickers have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and abduction for ransom.
The number of migrants intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year is more than double the number for 2020, when more than 11,890 were brought back to shore.
Those caught and returned to Libya have been taken to government-run detention centres, where they are frequently abused and held for ransom under the very noses of UN officials. They are often held in miserable conditions. Guards have been accused of sexually assaulting female migrants in at least one government-run detention centre. Many migrants also simply disappear from the detention centres, sold to traffickers or to other centres.
Libya’s government receives millions in European aid money, paid to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
More than 1,100 migrants have been reported dead or presumed dead in numerous boat mishaps and shipwrecks off Libya so far this year, compared to at least 978 reported dead or presumed dead during all of last year, according to IOM.