Fifty-three migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, were killed on Wednesday when a faction in the Libyan civil war carried out an air strike that hit a migrant detention centre near Tripoli. More than 130 others were injured.
The internationally-recognised Government of National Unity (GNA) blamed the attack on forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar, but his militants have denied it. In the murky situation of a war-ravaged country like Libya, it’s difficult to decide who’s saying the truth.
The UN has shockingly revealed that some of the victims were shot by Libyan guards, under the control of the GNA, when they were running for safety after the air strike.
Heart-wrenching pictures from the scene show many bodies strewn among rubble on the ground and African migrants undergoing emergency surgery after the strike.
The attack took place after weeks of appeal to the Libyan authorities to relocate the centre due to its proximity to the battle zone. All to no avail.
The latest incident and regular reports of the inhumanity, to which mainly sub-Saharan migrants are subjected in Libya, show the precarious situation of migrants in the North African country.
International refugee organisations estimate that more than 600,000 migrants are stranded in Libya despite the efforts of the EU-funded repatriation programme that seeks to return these migrants to their home countries or to a safe third country.
Libya is a key departure point for migrants and refugees from Africa and Arab countries trying to reach Italy by boat, but many get picked up and detained by the Libyan coastguard, which is supported by the European Union.
Thousands of irregular migrants and asylum seekers are housed in detention centres like the one that was attacked on Wednesday, with many activists reporting that occupants are forced to endure dangerous and appallingly inhuman conditions, including torture, rape and unlawful killing.
After the Wednesday incident, the UN issued a statement condemning the warring factions and the Libyan officials manning these detention centres. Sub-Saharan countries have been like usual silent showing their disregard for the fate of their citizens in Libya.
African governments’ attitude seems to be that migrants left their home countries for greener pastures on their free will and should bear the consequences of their action.
This is a very wrong attitude as a nation is should care for the safety of their citizens both within and outside its boundaries.
It’s time for African governments to make far more efforts to repatriate their citizens stranded in Libya, where they’re exposed to horrendous human rights abuse, as their chances of reaching Europe have become very slim. The war which has become a proxy battle for regional supremacy will most likely become bloodier and protracted exposing migrants to even more danger.
The time for African governments to act is now!