The United Nations has evacuated about 325 Libyan refugees from a government-run detention center in Tripoli after some were allegedly attacked for protesting bad conditions.
Fighting between rival governments in Libya has made living in and near the capital extremely hazardous for civilians.
“The dangers for refugees and migrants in Tripoli have never been greater than they are at present,” the deputy head of the U.N. mission, Matthew Brook, said Wednesday. “It is vital that refugees in danger can be released and evacuated to safety.”
The U.N. refugee agency said its decision to urgently move the refugees out of the Qaser Ben Gasheer detention center in Tripoli was triggered by reports that some were beaten and threatened with gunshots for complaining about crowded conditions and the lack of food.
Twelve people were sent to a hospital.
U.N. officials say they are deeply concerned for the safety of about 3,000 migrants inside various detention centers in Tripoli. They say the fighting is making it hard to provide lifesaving help to the migrants, and that it is vital the civilians are freed from the centers and given a chance to get away from the fighting.
Thousands of migrants from Libya and elsewhere try to make the dangerous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea from Libyan shores every year.
'Dangerous and unsuitable'
U.N. refugee officials said Wednesday that Libya is a “dangerous and unsuitable place” for refugees and migrants, and that “no effort should be spared to prevent those rescued at sea from being returned to Libya.”
Along with a call for an immediate cease-fire, U.N. humanitarian officials said they urgently need more than $10 million to continue helping beleaguered civilians in Libya.
The officials said they have received just 6% of pledges so far.
The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed its concern Thursday for people in and around Tripoli, saying the situation there has “deteriorated sharply over the past three weeks” with thousands of people being displaced and those remaining facing difficulty getting health care.
“One of our greatest concerns is for civilians near the frontlines. Densely populated residential areas are gradually turning into battlefields,” said Youness Rahoui, the ICRC’s head of office in Tripoli.
Forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his rival government in the east have launched a military offensive against Tripoli and the internationally recognized administration of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
The fighting has been primarily centered in the suburbs south of the capital.
Libya has been in chaos since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled and killed in 2011.
Numerous armed factions and militias have been jockeying for power and control of Libya’s oil wealth.
The United Nations fears the fighting will not only create a new refugee crisis in North Africa, but that terrorist groups such as Islamic State will take advantage of the crisis to dig in deeper inside Libya.