On Saturday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced that armed Libyan forces affiliated with the Government of National Accord (GNA) are detaining at least 60 migrants, including 24 children, in appalling conditions in Tripoli.
According to MSF, masked gunmen abducted the migrants on September 28th from the town of al-Ajaylat, about 80km west of Tripoli.
In its statement, the humanitarian organisation said that the armed group initially took around 350 migrants hostage, most of them from West Africa. The majority of the detained migrants managed to escape while some others were released.
MSF noted that it had notified the Libyan government’s agency for combatting illegal migration two days after the abduction, and later visited the warehouse where the migrants were detained.
Guillaume Baret, MSF’s head of mission in Libya said: “We found over 350 women, children, and men sleeping on the ground in appalling living conditions without access to water, showers, or toilets.”
MSF added that the armed gunmen stole valuable items and identification documents from the migrants, before taking them to a warehouse guarded by armed men in the nearby coastal city of Sabratha. This city has turned into one of the most important launching points for migrants, mainly of African origin, to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The French humanitarian group said that the remaining hostages are being held by the armed gunmen at a former military base.
Two Sabratha residents and one migrant said that most of the armed men belong to a battalion known as Al-Ammu, which the UN Panel of Experts on Libya identified in 2017 as the main facilitators of human trafficking in Libya.
The migrant in question said that the armed gunmen are likely seeking a ransom from families of the detained migrants, or to sell them to other traffickers.
Al-Ammu and another battalion called Brigade 48, are headed by two brothers from the large family of al-Dabashi in the area. The two battalions are affiliated with the GNA based in Tripoli.
For fear of reprisals, the residents and migrants spoke on condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Ministry of the Interior did not respond to phone calls and messages requesting comment.
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, pointed out that its medics were only allowed to consult with women and children among the captive migrants, while men were kept away from any treatment or care.
A shooting reportedly broke out following an attempted escape on October 2nd, and at least three people were killed, the humanitarian organisation reported.
MSF’s statement specified: “The situation at the warehouse was tense, with armed men firing shots into the air.”
The kidnapping of migrants illustrates the dangers that refugees and migrants face in war-torn Libya. Those trapped in the country cannot escape the violence or find safety, according to Doctors Without Borders.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing violence and poverty to Europe since 2011, according to MSF. In fact, Libya’s civil war that followed the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime has led to state collapse and the proliferation of battalions and human traffickers.