Libyan officials say security forces rounded up and detained at least 500 African migrants, including women and children, in a town in western Libya
CAIRO – Libyan security forces on Friday arrested at least 500 African migrants, including women and children, two officials and a group of refugees said. Authorities described the raid as part of a crackdown on illegal migration, but made no mention of the arrest of traffickers or smugglers.
The Libyan interior ministry said the migrants were rounded up in the western town of Gargaresh and taken to detention centers in Tripoli – places that human rights activists say are plagued by violence. abuse and where migrants are kept in miserable conditions.
Two security officials and the Norwegian Refugee Council said “more than 500” had been arrested. Officials said many of those detained had “lived illegally in Libya” for years. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.
The chief prosecutor’s office said hundreds of arrested migrants were taken to detention centers. The Home Office released images purporting to show some of the detainees sitting grouped together in a street with their hands tied behind their backs. Another image, an aerial photo, showed men lying face down at a crossroads, surrounded by military trucks and guards.
Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights, described the raid as the fiercest crackdown in western Libya in years.
Dax Roque, director of the Norwegian Council for Refugees in Libya, raised concerns about the detentions, saying arrested migrants risked mistreatment and ill-treatment. “Torture, sexual violence and extortion are rife in Libyan detention centers,” he said.
Libya has for years been a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries of origin and hoping for a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands of people drowned en route, others were intercepted and sent back to Libya.
Those returned to shore have been taken to government-run detention centers, where they are often mistreated and extorted for ransom under the very noses of UN officials.