A child sits on a mattress laid on the floor of the women's section of the Al-Nasr detention center in Zawiya, Libya | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF
Italian priest cries out over African migrants trapped in Libyan detention centers
January 16, 2020
Roman Catholic priest Father Mussie Zerai, president of the humanitarian organization Habeshia and pastor to migrants who arrive in Italy, has sent out a dramatic ‘SOS’ from migrants allegedly being held in detention centers in Libya, where they live in appalling conditions but are also exposed to danger as different factions in the country’s civil war battle for control.
“We continuously hear gunshots nearby, we are closed here, without protection, without escape routes in case of an attack, we risk our lives.” This dramatic appeal, published by Roman Catholic priest Father Mussie Zerai, allegedly comes from a group of migrants held in Libyan detention centers.
Father Zerai, nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, is the president of Habeshia, a humanitarian organization that works with asylum-seekers and refugees.
According to the blog post, the migrants said the detention centers were also being used as a weapons depot. This “fact,” they alleged, would increase the risk of them becoming a “military target.”
The migrants also claimed “they bombed some structures very close to ours” between 27 and 28 December , without specifying who “they” were.
“This fact increases the terror that pervades all of us,” they noted. The migrants further asked for the help of “all European institutions and humanitarian agencies to mobilize to find and implement a special evacuation plan,” adding that “every hesitation and postponement endangers hundreds of human lives”.
‘We live in a pigsty’
Father Zerai, who has earned the nickname“refugees’ guardian angel” for receiving hundreds of nighttime distress calls, is of Eritrean descent and experienced his own migratory struggle. In 2015, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2017, he was under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting illegal immigration, allegations he denied.
In the post on the Habeshia website, the migrants said inside they “live in a pigsty”.
“We haven’t received any personal hygiene items for months. We are forced to drink salt water and we don’t know where it comes from. Health problems are commonplace; the worst are those who have contracted tuberculosis.”
Father Zerai calls for ‘special evacuation plan’
Describing the situation in very graphic ways, the migrants stressed they needed medical exams, above all to those “wasting away before our eyes, as if they were candles being burned by the illness, consuming them from the inside.”
Furthermore, the migrants said they felt “abandoned” and that many had “fallen into depression” while others tried to escape via sea. They also spoke of desperation, which they claimed had led to “attempted suicide” among those who have been “forced for a year or more to move from one concentration camp to another.”
Father Zerai called on European institutions and humanitarian agencies to launch a “special evacuation plan for these vulnerable people”.