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Fate of Refugees and Migrants in Recently Shut Libyan Detention Centers of Concern

After the detention center was bombed, remaining structures appeared unstable and five days later, migrants were still sleeping outdoors. Pictured and transmitted to VOA July 7, 2019, in Tripoli, Libya.

The U.N. refugee agency welcomes the closure of three detention centers in Libya but voices concern about the whereabouts and fate of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who were held in the facilities.

The U.N. refugee agency has been advocating for the release of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from Libya’s detention centers for a long time. And, so it says it is pleased that three of the country’s largest facilities--Mistrata, Tajoura and Khoms--have been shut.

However, UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic tells VOA he has no idea what has happened to the inmates.

“To our knowledge, there are 19 official detention centers run by the authorities that are currently active in Libya with nearly 5,000 refugees and migrants that are arbitrarily detained there,” Mahecic said.

Mahecic says UNHCR is closely following developments. He says refugees should not be put in detention. In Libya, he says people held in facilities near battle zones are at particular risk, as was seen in the tragic events that unfolded in Tajoura last month.

The Tajoura detention center on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli was hit by an airstrike on July 2. More than 50 people, including children were killed and 130 injured. The vast majority were sub-Saharan Africans trying to reach Europe.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, says the attack could amount to a war crime. Mahecic says children should never be locked up and, in all cases, detention should only be a measure of last resort.

“What we are calling on now is for an orderly release of all refugees in detention centers to urban settings and we stand ready to provide these people with assistance through our urban programs that would include some form of financial assistance, medical and psycho-social support,” Mahecic said.

The United Nations describes Libyan detention centers as appalling, overcrowded places. It says detainees are denied sufficient food and medical care and are subject to abusive treatment, including torture and rape.