On Monday, Libyan security forces raided and violently broke up a sit-in by migrants outside a shuttered UN community center in Tripoli.
Overnight, the security forces destroyed the protest site, and arrested more than 600 hundred migrants and refugees, said activist Tarik Lamloum. Those arrested were sent to a detention center in the nearby town of Ain Zara.
Lamloum, who works with the local Belaady Organization for Human Rights, said at least one migrant community leader was shot during the raid.
The migrants, including women and children, had camped outside the UN center in Tripoli since October. They sought protection following a massive crackdown on migrants, and demanded better treatment at the hands of the Libyan authorities.
Commenting on the recent crackdown, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) issued a joint statement:
“We are alarmed by the detention of 600 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, including women and children, that were camped out in front of the former Community Day Centre in Tripoli. Witnesses have told us they were met with violence this morning, and that makeshift tents were burnt down. This is the culmination of a disastrous situation that has deteriorated over the last few months. Since the mass detention of thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in October of last year, the situation for this population in Libya has only got worse.”
They urged the Libyan authorities to immediately release those detained, and provide them protection from further violence. A government spokesman did not answer phone calls and messages seeking comment.
During the October crackdown, Libyan authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of children and women — dozens of them pregnant, according to the United Nations. Authorities at the time described it as a security operation against illegal migration, and drug trafficking.
Those detained were taken to overcrowded detention centers, prompting an outcry from the UN and human rights groups.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.
Traffickers have exploited the chaos, and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands have drowned along the way, and thousands have been intercepted and returned to Libya.